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Northwest Representative Reflections from NCAI Mid-Year Convention

6/12/2023 14:42:08 Jonathan Arakawa NUC Secretary & Northwest Representative and UNITY 25 Under 25 “NUC Secretary & Northwest Representative Report from the NCAI Mid-Year Convention
Prepared by Jonathan J. Arakawa, NUC Secretary & Northwest Representative

Dear National UNITY Council,

The National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Convention was held June 3-8, 2023, at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minnesota. We were blessed to be on the traditional homelands of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. I had the honor of attending the convention, representing UNITY, Inc., and fulfilling my role as Ex-Officio Officer on the NCAI Youth Commission.

During the week, Indian Country came together to discuss critical issues and celebrate accomplishments, equally important to all Tribal Nations. The Mid-Year Convention was opened up with prayer, and with vision and clarity by President Fawn Sharp and Executive Director Larry Wright, Jr. Among the many topics discussed among tribal, youth, state, congressional and federal leaders included Environmental Justice & Sustainability, International Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples Issues, Offshore Wind Energy challenges in the Northeast, Water Scarcity and Conservation, and Supreme Court Issues. There’s so much more to list!

Members of NCAI had the opportunity to hear updates from our federal counterparts. Each leader/representative iterated and demonstrated strong support and commitment for Tribal Sovereignty and self-governance. The updates were provided from the following.

Legislative Branch
We heard from Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Tina Smith from Minnesota, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Both Senators spoke to the legislations they supported which benefited Indian Country, whether it was the Infrastructure Law, the recent Spending Package, and much more.

Executive Branch
We heard from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Interior, and U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Additionally, we heard from Commissioner Patrice H. Kunesh from the Administrator for the Administration for Native Americans, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Commissioner Kunesh highlighted the millions of dollars that’s gone out to Tribal Nations over the years through different grants.

We also heard from Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, Peggy Flanagan. Her words ring loudly. “I’m honored to stand here in a time when Native women leaders are in the spotlight!” Lt. Gov. Flanagan is the highest ranking Native woman elected to office in the nation. Her words left everyone inspired, energized and empowered.

One of my favorite highlights of the convention: I’m particularly and immensely proud of our NCAI Youth Commission. Throughout the convention, the commission created a dynamic and inclusive youth agenda. As part of the NCAI 2nd General Assembly, NCAI Youth Commission Co-Vice President, Charli Earth, and Public Relations Representative, Sharon Bassette, spoke before the convention attendees to provide an update on the work the commission has done the past 8 months since their election. Their address reminded me of the address I provided alongside President Yanenowi Logan a year ago, when we served as the Co-Vice Presidents.

From speaking with world leaders, creating change in their communities and mobilizing themselves, the commission is embodied with powerful, fierce and incredible leaders — very much a powerhouse! Speaking of how wonderful the commission is, the officers provided opening remarks for the NCAI Welcome Reception. I’m grateful for how the NCAI staff are ensuring the youth voices are elevated and valued, thus gaining respect and praise from thousands of tribal leaders across Indian Country.

I unexpectedly and surprisingly ran into our Female Co-President, Chenoa Scippio. I was able to witness President Scippio in action as she worked with her team at Grow with Google, hosting workshops and speaking at a working luncheon. There are many opportunities for Tribal Nations and Native Organizations to grow with technology and mobilize all their services through Google. President Scippio and the Grow with Google shared how people can each individually grow their personal brand and portfolio, and also have professional development and attain certifications through their online training programs.

To that end, all of Indian County was reminded that we must be united in the face of attacks on Tribal Sovereignty. Our partners at NCAI, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and Indian Gaming Association (IGA) are closely monitoring the Supreme Court’s decision on the Brackeen case (also known as ICWA). In October of 2022, 500+ Tribal Nations signed on to the amicus brief early on, indicating a broad level of support for the cause. If Tribal Nations can act at this scale and align their efforts, Indian Country can be unstoppable. Our leaders at our national tribal organizations are prepared to act through different scenarios and engage Tribal Nations to stand together, regardless of the court’s decision.

In segue, IGA and NCAI convened for a joint task force. Two strong leaders I admire, Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. and President Fawn Sharp, provided powerful remarks to open up the Task Force. “We need technicians. We need to be energized,” said IGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. commenting on the issues forthcoming. The IGA-NCAI Task Force was reinstated this year to discuss the current legal threats to tribal sovereignty and formulate responses to defend against continued attacks on sovereignty, particularly in the courts. NCAI President Fawn Sharp made a powerful comment in regards to the latest attacks on tribal sovereignty, “We have righteous anger.”

No matter the circumstance, Indian Country is stronger when we are unified. In the face of challenges and attacks on our sovereignty, Tribal Nations must be aligned to act in a sovereign, unified, fierce, and unapologetic fashion through our inherent, sovereign authority. We have to be ready. We have to be in prayer. We will be faced with a challenging road. I have no doubt in my mind we stand stronger together!

Thank you for reading my report.


Jonathan J. Arakawa
Secretary & Northwest Representative
National UNITY Council Executive Committee

” Native youth, tribal leaders, U.S. Senators, federal leaders/officials, native organization leaders, etc. Prior Lake, MN June 2023 ““I’m honored to stand here in a time when Native women leaders are in the spotlight!” — Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan

“We need technicians. We need to be energized.”” — IGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr.

“We have righteous anger.” — NCAI President Fawn Sharp

“Adopting digital tools is important for tribal communities.” — UNITY Co-President Chenoa Scippio

“We’re not sub sovereigns; we are sovereign nations!” — NCAI Treasurer Shannon Holsey

“Our Mother Earth is not worth the sacrifice for a quick remedy for a project you want to do.” — Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah” Yes Please! Feature my progress toward my goals Northwest,,,,,,,,, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe