ver the course of the first week of the New Year, Tribal Leaders throughout Indian Country journeyed to the nation’s capital to witness the swearing-in of the historic 116th Congress. For Indian Country, it could not be more monumental than the election of the first two Native American women in the Nation’s history to serve in Congress. Representatives Debra Haaland (NM-1, Laguna Pueblo) and Sharice Davids (KS-3, Ho-Chunk Nation) will join Representatives Tom Cole (OK-4, Chickasaw Nation) and Markwayne Mullin (OK-2, Cherokee Nation) as the only enrolled Tribal Members serving in Congress.
On Wednesday, many Tribal leaders and representatives witnessed the swearing-in from the Senate and House. Newly-elected Senator Kevin Cramer (ND) met visited with Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. shortly after his swearing-in, as did incumbent Senator Jon Tester (MT). Tribal Leaders traveled to Washington to meet, for the first time, the freshman class of the 116th Congress, including over 100 new members of the House of Representatives. Chairman Stevens was able to provide a pertinent reminder of Native Americans’ role in shaping this democracy and our growing presence on Capitol Hill.
The swearing-in events concluded with a special reception at National Indian Gaming Association’s D.C. office honoring Representatives Haaland and Davids. Most Tribal Leaders stated that Indian Country stands ready to do the work necessary to protect treaty rights and sovereignty. They also expressed the need for a continued partnership with the Administration and Congress, ending the day on an optimistic note with several Congressional visitors stating their intention to advance Indian Country’s key issues this legislative term. Representatives Betty McCollum (MN-4), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Norma Torres (CA-35), and newly-elected Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2), attended the reception to congratulate their new colleagues.
"A special thank you is owed to the Mescalero Apache and Poarch Band Creek of Indians who helped co-sponsor several events for Representatives Haaland and Davids, as well as Emily’s List reception at the National Indian Gaming Association, honoring these two Congresswomen," expressed NIGA representatives at the event.
The evening concluded with a celebratory reception for our Native Congresswomen and native veterans at the Hyatt Regency, hosted by over 20 tribes and tribal organizations, including the National Indian Gaming Association. Of the celebrities sighted, Mark Ruffalo, an advocate for Indian Country, expressed his excitement and gratitude to be invited to take part of the night’s festivities with all of the tribal citizens and advocates present. Other presenters included Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) joined their colleagues voicing their support for the continuing collaboration between political parties to reach common ground on pressing Tribal concerns.
On Friday, January 4th, the National Indian Gaming Association hosted a one-day meeting on the topics of tribal sovereignty and the trust responsibility, taxation, and economic development in the 116th Congress. This important meeting was held at a time when many Federal agencies serving Indian Country are shut down due to the 2019 Budget impasse.
Chairman Stevens opened the meeting with a message of unity and hope. “Indian Country has never been more poised to have our voices heard now that we have four Native Americans serving in Congress. Already, Tribal issues are receiving unprecedented mainstream media coverage due to the election of our Indian sisters, Deb Haaland, and Sharice Davids.”
"As Indian Country begins the 116th Congress, we have never been more united and poised to implement much-needed policy changes at the Federal level. Tribal Leadership will likely return to hear the President’s State of The Union speech in three weeks, but Tribal Leaders departed D.C. knowing that the newly-elected Representatives to the 116th Congress will be strong advocates on behalf of Indian Country," concluded Stevens.