As November ushers in the crisp fall air and the season of gratitude, it’s also a time to honor the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and important contributions of Native people. November is Native American History Month, a dedicated time to reflect on the significant role Native Americans have played in shaping the history and fabric of the United States.

This week, New Orleans is serving as the host city for the National Congress of American Indians 80th Annual Convention and Marketplace. The weeklong event — Nov. 12-17 —   will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was established in 1944 to counter the termination and assimilation policies of the U.S. government that threatened the treaty rights and sovereignty of tribal nations. Its mission includes protecting and enhancing treaty and sovereign rights, securing traditional laws, cultures, and ways of life, promoting the recognition of tribes in American governments, and improving the quality of life for Native communities.

In 1944, approximately 80 representatives from 50 tribes and numerous associations across 27 states convened in Denver, Colorado to form the NCAI during the tribes’ Constitutional Convention. At its founding, NCAI emphasized the need for unity among tribal governments and peoples to safeguard their rights, stimulating Native political awareness and activism, providing a forum for debate, overseeing litigation and organizing lobbying efforts in Washington.

NCAI has advocated for tribal sovereignty and worked to educate the public on Native governments and rights. Its efforts have helped reverse termination policies and ushered in an era of self-determination, maintaining tribal nations’ strength and sovereignty.

NCAI filed successful lawsuits for Indian voting rights in the 1940s, hosted a conference in 1954 to halt termination policies, and helped create the “Declaration of Indian Purpose” in 1961, which influenced policy changes under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration.

The NCAI Southeast Region Local Planning Committee, NCAI staff, and volunteers prepare bags for the 80th Annual NCAI Convention and Marketplace held in New Orleans Nov. 12-17. Vice-Chairwoman of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, Crystal Williams, center, is chair of the local planning committee. Credit: Brandi Liberty

NCAI is a collective of diverse 398 tribal nations, individuals, and Native groups across 12 NCAI regional areas. Operating as a member-driven representative congress, it functions through the consensus of its voting members, who shape its stance via resolutions. These resolutions are crafted within various committees and ratified during national conventions. NCAI’s membership elects its Executive Committee, which includes the president, 1st vice president, recording secretary, and treasurer. Regional vice presidents are chosen by their specific regions. Each board member holds a two-year term. Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation is the current NCAI President and will close out her term during this year’s convention.

During the NCAI 80th Annual Convention and Marketplace,  tribal leaders, NCAI members, Native youth, and various partners from Indian Country will address pivotal issues and initiate a renewed phase of Nation-to-Nation interaction. One of the goals of the convention is to work to protect and promote tribal sovereignty.  The convention’s marketplace, open to attendees and the public, will showcase artists and federal job recruiters.

Thousands are expected from tribes across the nation, promising a program that highlights the history, achievements, and future of Native American communities. From panel discussions and keynote speeches to cultural presentations and networking events, the convention is set to be a landmark event.

Throughout this month, we honor the resilience and strength of Native American tribes and communities. We acknowledge the painful history of marginalization and dispossession they have endured. Let’s use this time and beyond to educate ourselves and others about tribal history and contemporary Native life. It’s an opportunity to engage with Native American literature, art, and film, to listen to the voices of Native people, and to support Native-led organizations and initiatives throughout the year. 

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Brandi Liberty is an enrolled member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska and a descendant of the United Houma Nation in Southern Louisiana. She is the owner of The Luak Group and its subsidiary...