The 80th Annual Convention and Marketplace of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), held in New Orleans from November 12-17, 2023, marked a significant event in the organization’s history. Drawing more than 2,000 attendees, representing more than 250 tribes, it was one of the largest gatherings for NCAI, reflecting its vital role in promoting tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Sessions such as “Learning to Leading – Tools to Strengthen Civic Engagement in Our Communities,” focused on civic engagement in Indian Country, covering topics like youth action and local tribal advocacy efforts. Another workshop, focused on Indigenous data sovereignty, was co-hosted by the Native BioData Consortium and the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative.

The session “Operationalizing Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in the Context of Conservation and Development” discussed examples of tribal law, intergovernmental policy, and programs that operationalize FPIC, with a focus on stewardship of the natural world and norms of consent.

Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Native Programs (ONAP) hosted their second tribal consultation on the Indian Community Development Block Grant. Deputy Assistant Secretary of ONAP Heidi J. Frechette (Menominee/Brothertown) gave opening remarks on the rulemaking process to update the program that is instrumental in providing decent housing, suitable living environments, and economic development opportunities for low-and-moderate income Indian and Alaska Native communities. 

Many tribal nations addressed issues facing their states. Oklahoma, for example, is dealing with tribal vehicle registration and tags. Panel discussions such as “Advancing Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” discussed issues ranging from federal Indian boarding schools to domestic protection of sacred sites and Indigenous Peoples’ participation at the United Nations.

Tribal leaders from tribes across Oklahoma met to discuss the tribal tag issue in the state during the 80th Annual Convention and Marketplace of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), held in New Orleans from November 12-17, 2023. Credit: Christie Modlin

Proposed amendments to the NCAI constitution were also discussed. Members voted on two constitutional amendments aimed at excluding state-recognized tribes from voting membership, but both amendments failed. Both required a two-thirds majority for passage but were rejected by the members. The failure of these amendments was a significant outcome for the 24 tribes that would have been excluded from voting membership had the amendments passed.

New administrative board officers were elected. 

The new NCAI President is Mark Macarro, Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Brian Weeden, Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, was elected as the first vice president. Nickolaus D. Lewis from Lummi Nation is the recording secretary, and David Woerz, a legislator from the Chickasaw Nation, has been elected as the treasurer.

In addition to the executive board officers, regional vice presidents and alternates from the 12 NCAI regions were elected. Each will serve a two-year term.

The convention offered a marketplace where attendees and the general public could browse booths featuring artists and meet federal job recruiters. The conference sessions and the marketplace provided valuable opportunities for learning, discussion, and collaboration among tribal leaders, NCAI members, Native youth, and partners from across Indian Country. This year’s convention reiterated NCAI’s commitment to advancing tribal sovereignty and addressing contemporary challenges faced by Native American communities.

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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...