WASHINGTON -- In his State of Indian Nations address, the President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Jefferson Keel, called for a new era in U.S. tribal relations defined by optimism and economic opportunity. He called for the U.S. government to focus on Indian Country as a place where infrastructure challenges could be seen as opportunities for economic growth.
"Unemployment [in Indian Country]... is often four to five times the national unemployment rate," said Keel as he addressed tribal leaders, members of Congress and the Obama Administration. "Tribes care for approximately ten percent of America's energy resources, including renewable energy, worth nearly a trillion dollars in revenue... [this] will mean long-term economic development, and in turn the United States will become stronger."
President Keel outlined other economic opportunities including broadband infrastructure, "which is the back-bone of the new economy. Across the nation, broadband is available to 95 percent of Americans. But in tribal communities, it's only 10 percent," explained Keel as he spoke to the nation via a live web broadcast and through radio stations across the country. "Broadband is the pipeline to progress, and we need investment, but first we need an end to barriers that stand in the way of that investment."
Coming off an exceptional year of bipartisan policy achievements for tribal nations, Keel pointed out that the momentum must be sustained if tribal nations and tribal citizens were to feel the impact in their communities. He called on Congress to seize the opportunity, emphasized that they must sustain investment in Indian programs, and provide funding for infrastructure, law enforcement, health care, job creation, and education.
"The trust responsibility to tribal nations is not a budget line item, it is a solemn promise," said Jacqueline Johnson Pata, NCAI's Executive Director, following the event. "Today we've released Indian Country's Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request and drawn a roadmap outlining key opportunities for investment that will carry America and Indian Nations to brighter days."
Keel concluded the speech saying, "The Indian nations can do the work — if the federal government will clear the way for us to exercise our liberty and thus make a new era and a more perfect union."
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit www.ncai.org.