This year's National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Midyear Conference's spirited opening was filled with the posting of the colors, honor song and invocation in St. Paul, MN. Conference attendees received warm welcomes from a number of local hosts including Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Charlie Vig, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Chairman and Kevin Leecy amongst others. Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Susan Allen also graced the stage, as did supporter of sovereignty Congresswoman Betty McCollum.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also addressed the general assembly and expressed their gratitude for the powerful presence of Indian Country in their city. NCAI President Brian Cladoosby excitedly greeted the packed general assembly and gave his president's report on NCAI and Indian Country.
Conference attendees heard from Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, on the dealings of the administration. He spoke to issues affecting Indian Country and what they are doing to improve those relations. The congressional update given by Senator Al Franken, Minnesota was able to speak directly to the issues they face in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The Native American Caucus Town Hall discussion held during the conference also had a great turn out. Hosted by Congresswoman Betty McCollum, the discussion focused on "Building a Stronger Indian Country" and addressed federal responsibility toward tribal infrastructure in areas such as education, transportation, telecommunications and housing. Conference breakout sessions filled the afternoon with topics from Protecting Our Natural and Cultural Resources to Planning for Success: Next Steps to Further Tribally-Driven Land and Economic Planning.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota gave a congressional update on day two. NCAI's 10th Annual Tribal Leader/Scholar Forum: "Back to Our Futures: Re-searching for Justice" was also featured during the conference. Another highlight was the presentation on Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act: Proposed Legislation followed by a tribal leaders discussion. After an afternoon of breakout sessions the day ended with committee meetings. The final day of the NCAI Midyear Conference concluded with Regional Caucus Meetings, Supreme Court Project Update and Yukon and Kuskokwim Inter-Tribal Fish Commissions Update before the committee reports.
The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) participated in a number of outside meetings while attending the NCAI Midyear Conference including a Tribal Leaders Tax Reform Alliance (TLTRA) meeting and a meeting with the National Tribal Gaming Commissioners & Regulators (NTGCR).
NIGA also hosted the Tribal Gaming Subcommittee meeting where Congresswoman Betty McCollum reiterated her support for tribal sovereignty rights. NIGA gave a legislative update and spoke about labor, land into trust and Class II gaming. The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) was also on hand. NIGC Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri addressed their ACE Initiative and the five priorities of the agency. He welcomed more dialogue and spoke about how they are addressing the recommendations from the GAO Report on Tribal Gaming. Before the Tribal Gaming Subcommittee meeting concluded, Jamie Hummingbird of the NTGCR talked about their Internet Gaming Taskforce, the need to educate our tribes in the event that Internet gaming becomes a reality and their plans for an Internet Gaming Symposium.
The conversations continue next month at the NIGA Summer Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. July 21-22.