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WASHINGTON — National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Mark Macarro, who also serves as the chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians located in Temecula, California, gave his first State of Indian Nations address before a live audience at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

 
The purpose of the annual address is to provide an update on the issues important to Indian Country and a vision for the upcoming year. 

On Monday, Macarro announced three actions NCAI will concentrate on during 2024. 

  • NCAI will host a National Public Safety and Justice Summit to address the shortage of tribal police on tribal lands. Additionally, the summit will address the opioid crisis prevalent throughout Indian Country.
  • Formation of a task force within NCAI that will focus on the integrity of our tribal membership and foster education and healing. This is a reaction to a failed resolution at last fall’s annual NCAI convention that sought to diminish the role of state-recognized tribes within the NCAI.
  • NCAI will convene a Native Vote roundtable to ensure Indian Country’s voting voice is amplified and Native American access to the ballot is ensured. 

At the conclusion of Macarro’s address, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, gave the congressional response. 

The National Congress of American Indians distributed President Macarro’s address, which follows:

Introduction 

Míiyayam, polóov ‘amú’éxngay. Míiyuyam Nokíiyam, Nonéshkinum, No’ó’nanum, ‘á’wilam, ‘amáayaum, pí’ néqpivuktum. Lóoviqap ‘ivá’’á’wunat ‘ivá’up ‘óm’éesh. Nóon Mark Muqáara yaqáa, Noon kíktumi Muqáara pí’ Qéengish; pí’ noon Pecháangawish pum’tó∫ngakati.  

Greetings, everyone; good morning. My name is Mark Macarro, of the Muqáara and Ground Squirrel clans, and I’m the Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Indians in California.  

I am privileged to live life alongside my wife and extraordinary partner in this work, Holly Cook Macarro, and our kids Hudson and Reg, and our daughters Rebecca and David. Holly and Reg are here today.  

And I thank the Pechanga Band of Indians–my people. Pecháangayam: by resolution and goodwill, you wholeheartedly supported this endeavor for me to be NCAI President, nu∫úunup lóoviq Pecháangayam. 

 

Welcome to the 2024 State of Indians Nations address. 

It’s a privilege to serve Indian Country as president of the National Congress of American Indians. I strive to do so with humility and a desire to do right by our people.  

I also acknowledge the original people of this territory, the Nacotchank/Anacostian Nation, and their neighbors, the Piscataway people.  

We thank the Creator for bringing us together today. The wisdom and values of our elders are the bedrock of our communities. And the powerful voices of our youth in Indian Country embolden the hope I have for all of us. To our Native veterans, thank you for your service.  

I’m honored to have some of our federal counterparts here today. These elected officials, political and judicial appointees, and their staff make decisions every day that directly impact our people. 

Let’s also take a moment to breathe in the rich diversity and strength of our thriving Tribal Nations that are in this very room.  

I believe this is a moment for hope in Indian Country.  

We continue to make strides in representation in everything from elected office to outer space to what I believe will be a historic night at the Academy Awards next month. [in reference to Lily Gladstone}

The work always continues, but the state of Indian Nations is strong and on the rise. 

As I approach my time as NCAI president, I do so the same way I’ve approached the past nearly 30 years as tribal chairman, relying on the strength of our cultural foundations and inspiration drawn from my dad, Sonny. 

Like so many Native people of his generation, Sonny had a challenging life, but he carried a disposition that respected people and erred on the side of optimism. 

My dad was a state corrections officer at the Youth Training School in Chino, California. For 14 years, he worked with incarcerated young adults. Black and Brown people were the majority population in that prison. 

I remember once, as a teenager who knew everything, asking how he could stand to be around these criminals every day, assuming they all must deserve to be there. 

He replied, “Son, you don’t know what most of these people have gone through. Don’t judge them on what might have been their worst decision and lowest point of their life.  

I took his wisdom to heart, and I’ve carried his words with me ever since.  

My dad was killed in the line of duty in 1988, chasing down an escaping prisoner. 

I am a Bird Singer and Nukwáanish Singer back at home.  

Like many of you, the songs we sing at social gatherings and funerals teach us about our place in the world. Through our songs, I know the word for ‘bison’ in my language, for example, ‘Úuchanat. 

But there haven’t been bison in southern California for thousands of years. 

We had a contract archeologist who was dismissive of the possibility that bison had ever roamed southern California; he called it a memory culture word. 

But isn’t it interesting whenever there’s a construction project in our area that requires excavation more than 20 feet down, they always find bison bones? 

What sounds more plausible? That my people made up a word for an animal that never lived among them or that my people date back in our part of the world to the Ice Age and maybe as long as two-and-a-half million years ago? 

Our stories and histories continue to have much to offer everyone in this nation. Our songs tell us of a time on earth before the moon was in the sky. Indeed, we’ve been here an awful long, long time. 

And there’s an unwavering spirit that has secured the strength of our communities today. We are the first Americans, and our Tribal Nations are the first governments.  

I am speaking today not only to Indian Country but to all our fellow American citizens, who increasingly turn to us for wisdom, collaboration, and solutions to our shared challenges. 

This beautiful theater where we’re gathered first opened 100 years ago in 1924, the same year Indians in this country gained American citizenship and the right to vote. 

But this theater doesn’t look exactly the way it did in 1924, and neither does Indian Country. 

Our communities continue to rebuild and reinforce our traditions, cultures, and values. We’ve withstood the test of time. Long after this building is gone, we will still be here. 

While the Snyder Act was passed 100 years ago, barriers to the ballot remain and continue to be thrown up, which is why the bipartisan Native American Voting Rights Act led by our Native American Caucus isn’t just a bill that needs Congressional approval. It’s a tool that empowers our political voice and the Native Vote. 

In 2024, the power of the Native Vote holds the potential to swing elections and shape history not just for Native people, but for everyone in the United States or generations. 

2024 will be a pivotal year, but it’s important to not just focus on this year in my first address as NCAI president.  

I want us to look out ten years, 20 years, and 100 years because I want us to envision the legacy we intend to leave for our future. 

I believe that legacy will only happen if we continue the tradition set forth when NCAI was founded 80 years ago: a tradition of unity, unity of purpose, and action. 

Those who founded NCAI here in America’s capitol knew each Tribal Nation has its unique culture, and that we are united by a common purpose; that a unified voice and collective action are the pathways to protecting and strengthening the sovereignty of our Tribal Nations. 

This wisdom transcends and connects generations. 

The power of our collective voice has never been more evident than it was last year in the historic way Indian Country responded to the Brackeen case.  

486 Tribal Nations and 59 Native organizations were instrumental in supporting the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act.  

People listened. The courts listened. And the United States listened.  

Together, Tribal Nations stood shoulder-to-shoulder to protect our children. This is the unity of collective action that propels us forward.  

It’s our job to build on this legacy. 

Part of that legacy is continuing to tell the stories, especially the painful ones. Not to dwell on the trauma of our pas, but to learn from it and to grow stronger from it. 

We draw our sense of service to our people from the most painful times in our history. The sacrifices of our forebears challenge us in the present with the responsibility to carry our Tribal identities forward.  

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland hass, wait, let me just say that again: SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR DEB HAALAND, I want to make sure we never take this moment for granted. 

Secretary Haaland has held and carried the stories of federal boarding schools that are cracking open the conversations of this era. 

We’re grateful for all she holds, and we must commit to continuing her work. 

We must keep telling those histories and continue to create safe places for people to share their stories so we may add them to the mosaic of our history and prevent the invisibility of this and other traumatic times in our past. 

Just like that archeologist who refused to believe bison ever walked the land of my ancestors, we must make it impossible for future historians and archaeologists to ignore what happened here in our time. We must continue to tell our story. 

Part of the work before us, for both Indian Country and the three branches of the federal government, is to maximize the potential for our government-to-government relationship with an eye toward the sovereignty we’ve always had and the treaties we’re still expecting to be honored. 

We face a harsh reality: recent court decisions have challenged our sovereignty and disregarded the core principles of our treaties. We grew comfortable believing, knowing, that some issues were settled law. But suddenly, efforts are made to diminish our tribal sovereignty. How can our world so quickly be upended?  

The Castro-Huerta decision is a glaring example. It illustrates how foundational legal understandings of U.S.-tribal relations, laid down over two centuries, can so easily be reconsidered.  

Such rulings have reshaped and, at times, rewritten history to justify outcomes that undermine our sovereign rights. 

It cannot be overstated how much a single Justice can affect the lives of millions of Native people.  

Castro-Huerta painfully highlighted a deep-seated misunderstanding of tribal sovereignty, whereas the Brackeen case saw our history and rights not just acknowledged, but respected — for now.  

These are no longer linear fights: we battle, we win, onto the next one. Rather, they will keep coming at us.  

Fifty years ago today, the Supreme Court issued the Boldt decision, a huge win and a key ruling recognizing Treaty-based hunting and fishing rights for our relatives in the Pacific Northwest. 

This stark difference between cases underscores the urgent need for a judiciary that understands and honors the principles of tribal sovereignty. As my old friend Billy Frank of the Nisqually Nation used to say, God dammit, Mark, we gotta keep them.

To ensure this, Federal Indian law and the history of our government-to-government relations must be integral to legal education everywhere and mandatory on bar exams in all states. 

We commend President Biden for nominating a historic number of Native Americans to the federal bench and thank the Senators who led the vote in confirming these nominations.  

We have seen true champions within the halls of Congress—including Native Americans in both chambers— who deeply understand our communities and fight for our futures alongside us. Sharice Davids, Tom Cole, Mary Peltola, Josh Brecheen, Markwayne Mullin - we honor and recognize your voices in the House and Senate. 

Congress must fulfill the promises made by the United States— promises that have been made, paid for, and are yet to be kept. Promises enshrined in Treaties negotiated between Nations. 

We seek immediate action in crucial areas such as healthcare, housing, and the management of our lands and waters. 

Let me be clear: The well-being and future of Tribal Nations should never be overshadowed by political agendas. Our needs and rights must rise above partisan politics. 

To that end, it is imperative that Congress make Indian Health Service funding mandatory and permanent. This is a crucial policy that will prevent the loss of Native lives due to political gridlocks and government shutdowns.  

We also call for the long-overdue reauthorization of the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act to modernize the funding structures and address housing insecurity that disproportionately affects Native people. This is a bipartisan effort led by Brian Schatz and Lisa Murkowski of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

 Congress must pass a Farm Bill that respects tribal sovereignty. It should facilitate expanded self-determination, recognize traditional conservation practices, and empower Tribal Nations to have greater control over their food systems. 

Our inherent sovereignty must be broadly recognized, including our authority to enforce laws within our own lands, freeing us from dual taxation, which halts our economic growth.  

Indian Country’s needs are not entitlements. 

Indian Country’s needs are non-negotiable—they are imperative, and they must be met.  

For years, Tribal Nations have been doing more with less – and often doing less with less. The government’s own Broken Promises Report demonstrates this. 

No more. Adequate funding, proportionate to our population size, is not just expected; it is Congress’ responsibility. 

Turning to the Executive Branch, I acknowledge the meaningful changes this Administration has brought to Indian Country.  

Under this presidency, there are more Native Americans in the highest levels of the government than ever before, from the White House to so many agencies in government. We see you. 

This representation fosters a deeper understanding of our needs.  

Substantial efforts have been made to enhance government-to-government dialogue and to seek consultation with us. We’ve seen improvements in fee-to-trust processes, NAGPRA, and environmental standards.  

This Administration has also worked with us to restore stewardship over our ancestral homelands. We saw that with the protection of Chaco Canyon, and the establishment of nearly 200 co-stewardship and co-man agement agreements. 

And there was an Executive Order directly related to Indian Country signed just two months ago—the first since the Clinton era—that promises to enhance our access to government funding, though its full impact remains to be seen. 

President Biden’s commitment to improving justice and public safety in Indian Country remains paramount, alongside the need to address the fentanyl and opioid epidemic. At the core of this effort is the need to bolster tribal criminal jurisdiction and increase law enforcement resources. We must be equipped to confront and overcome the devastating consequences of this epidemic effectively and save lives. 

And no discussion of justice in Indian Country would be complete without confronting a glaring injustice—after 49 years, the continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. Even the very prosecutors who put him there have now called for his release. This must be openly discussed and remedied immediately. 

As we continue to lead in protecting our planet for future generations, it is crucial that clean energy transitions, like offshore wind development and lithium mining, do not infringe upon our sovereignty or our right to consent. Formal consultation with Tribal Nations is the key to ensuring these initiatives honor the deep connection to our lands and waterways.  

This Administration has set a powerful precedent— collaboration grounded in respect for sovereignty, fueled by Indian Country’s unified voice. The work continues and requires ongoing cooperation from both sides.  

So, in Indian Country, the time for action is now. And I want to be clear that as NCAI President, I am unwavering in my commitment to shaping this legacy.  

The path forward hinges on our collective choices. And we must decide whether we’ll falter in adversity or unite around the shared aspirations and strength that have defined us for generations. 

From successfully expanding tribal criminal jurisdiction through the Violence Against Women Act’s reauthorization, addressing the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons head-on, and by dismantling harmful stereotypes to protect our youth, NCAI has met its mission. 

This ongoing work to tackle immediate injustices has also built the foundation for our enduring empowerment. 

With this 80-year legacy behind us, I now call upon NCAI to amplify our collective voice to new heights.  

I have three key actions to announce: 

  • Today, we see over-policing in our urban Indian communities and under-policing on our reservation lands.  

Indian Country is 56 million acres in size, with a combined force of 3,000 officers. This means as I speak these words, in many places on Turtle Island, a reservation of 1-2 million acres is being patrolled by only one or two officers.  

 In contrast, the U.S. Capitol complex is 270 acres with a force of 2,000 officers. 

My good friend Darrell Seki, Chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota, has nearly worn out his voice telling the story of how their tribal community has been devastated by the opioid epidemic. In spite of repeated arrests of drug dealers, the tribe is hampered by limited tribal detention authority. The lack of prosecution by the federal authorities means he sees these same offenders back in the community just days and sometimes hours later. He is desperate for the jurisdiction to prosecute these offenders and provide protection to his people.  

The federal standard for officers is 2.4 per 1000 people. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is at .6 officers per 1000 people. They have been forced to sue the United States based on the “Bad Men Clause” of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty with the Oceti Sakowin, which holds that the United States is responsible for the protection of tribal citizens. 

This is why my first call is for NCAI to host a National Public Safety and Justice Summit where we can engage in deep discussions about jurisdictional and law enforcement needs on our Tribal lands and police brutality in our urban Tribal communities. 

The injustices of over-policing and over-incarceration must be addressed and remedied. The chronic underfunding and under-resourcing of law enforcement on tribal lands needs to end. 

This conversation will also include the fentanyl and opioid crisis. The crisis knows no boundaries or borders, so our dialogue can’t just include tribal leaders but also federal, state, county, and community leaders affected by this epidemic.  

Second, I am announcing the formation of a task force within NCAI that will focus on the integrity of our tribal membership and foster education and healing. We’re all aware of the amendment votes in our last gathering. I want us to work through this in a respectful way. This is essential for uniting our voices and forging a legacy of unity and strength. 

And to our Alaska relatives: I recognize our unity as indigenous people. Our partnership moving forward is critically important; we need to have open dialogue on matters like the role of Alaska Native Corporations, the effect of climate change and rising sea temperatures on coastal communities and salmon viability, policies around commercial fishing and salmon bycatch, and trans-border mining without environmental mitigation. 

Third, our collective and continued political engagement is crucial. Every vote we cast has the power to shape our future. I intend to convene a Native Vote roundtable to ensure Indian Country’s voting voice is amplified and our access to the ballot is ensured. 

Our collective power resonates when we actively engage, raise our voices, and advocate alongside each other. Through these calls to action, NCAI can—and will—continue to champion the rights and needs of Tribal Nations.  

Conclusion: A United Vision for the Future  

In closing, within NCAI, we must remember our mission. We are here to protect treaty rights, our languages and cultures, and improve the quality of life for our tribal communities. 

We are a deliberative body, a CONGRESS, a Congress that uses resolutions to speak with one voice after hearing discussions and viewpoints from our delegates across Indian Country.  

There’s a lot going on in the world and many strong opinions on them. I personally recognize the struggles of communities who have experienced displacement and land loss, and I condemn acts of genocide and terrorism. On this stage as President of NCAI, I am committed to working within our deliberative processes to speak as a unified voice on all matters.  

Finally, envisioning the legacy that we forge for our future will guide my tenure as President of the NCAI.  

I want that legacy to mirror the endurance of our spirit. The resilience of our cultures. The strength that has defined our people for millennia.  

We’re empowered and energized. And our legacy will remain strong— for decades to come. To justice in all its forms. May the Creator watch over all of us. Thank you.  

Nu∫úunup lóoviqap. Chóo’ón híicha lóoviman, Tápyaxpa notéela, po’éekup.


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Levi Rickert
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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].