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PRIOR LAKE, MINN. — Some 700 tribal leaders from throughout Indian Country gathered at Mystic Lake Casino Resort — on the homelands of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community — for the Mid Year Convention and Marketplace of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

“We are the descendants of our ancestors, and ancestors to our descendants. Every time we come together to do our work, we invite the spirits of our ancestors to come to give us guidance,” NCAI President Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian Nation) said during the opening assembly on Monday morning. “We have everything we need inside Indian Country to meet the challenges we have and to emerge stronger. There is no question in my mind.”

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As the program got underway, organizers held a moment of silence and a short program to honor former NCAI President Joe Garcia (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo), who died on May 11, 2023.

U.S. Sen.Tina Smith (D-MN), a member of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs, welcomed NCAI delegates to the state. 

“Minnesota is a place of Native strength, resilience, and power,” Smith said. She provided an overview of working closely with Minnesota tribes on issues such as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) and the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

The highlight of the day came when the U.S. Department of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) who was greeted with a standing ovation.

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Interior Sec. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) at the NCAI Mid-Year Convention (Photo: Levi Rickert | Native News) 

“We can usher in a new future for our children and grandchildren because they deserve to inherit that,” Haaland said. “This work starts with each of us. Since day one, the Biden-Harris administration has put words into actions prioritizing the needs of Indian Country through President Biden's 'Investing in America' agenda. I'm standing here today as a testament to that commitment."

Haaland highlighted the importance of the work of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and the Road to Healing tour, which made its seventh stop in Minnesota on Saturday. 

“What makes the Road to Healing so special is that this work begins with the acknowledgement of our collective trauma so that we can begin to heal together. The sessions reveal the traumas that we have all experienced and the stories about being isolated, scared and lonely, that I have heard are eerily similar to the stories my grandmother shared with me while at the kitchen table decades ago,” Haaland said.

Other speakers on Monday included Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community); Chief Marilynn Malerba (Mohegan Tribe), the U.S. Treasurer; Brian Schatz, U.S. Senator (HI) - Chair, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator (AK) - Vice Chair, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Kevin Sharp, attorney for Leonard Peltier; and Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe)

The convention will be session until the end of Thursday. 

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].