by W. Ron Allen, Chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians
Over the past 15 to 20 years, Indian Country has encountered phenomenal success in strengthening and exercising our governmental authorities. As part of that success, many tribes have demonstrated financial stability and tribal self-reliance. The key question and challenge of the day is: With the many challenges and needs of our respective tribal communities, can and will Indian Country build on this new wealth and make a meaningful contribution to our “united cause”?
Last year, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) embarked on a mission to establish an “Embassy” in Washington, DC. By purchasing a permanent home, an “Embassy of Tribal Nations,” we raise the presence of American Indian/Alaska Native governmental status and influence in the nation's capitol. I truly believe that we collectively have the power and means to take this opportunity and make our dream become a reality.
Since 1944, NCAI has been defending our inherent tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, religious, cultural & traditional practices. On our behalf, NCAI works hard on issues such as natural resources, health care, education, housing, infrastructure and community services. NCAI is aggressive in advancing our fiscal independence through development and expansion of our economic base, including the emergence of the gaming and resort industries.
Through the hills and valleys of our successes, NCAI has consistently displayed its strength and effectiveness. While tribes face many complex political battles at the local and state level, we continue to fight significant battles to defend Indian Country's interests that lie in Washington, DC with each changing administration, the Congress and the federal court system. Along with the tribal leadership, Jacqueline Johnson, NCAI Executive Director and her staff have done a commendable job at addressing the countless issues in the national political forum.
Against the backdrop of the recent Jack Abramoff scandal, NCAI must step up its role and presence in DC to defend and advance our collective rights. I believe that we must capitalize on establishing a physical presence in this nation's capitol with a building that reflects the unique independent sovereign standing of American Indian and Alaska Native nations. The key to our effectiveness is visibility and accessibility in the downtown DC area. Without purchasing our own building, NCAI may be forced to relocate its future headquarters outside the “beltway,” like many other non-profit organizations.
In April 2006, the NCAI Executive Committee agreed to purchase the 1724 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. building with a total acquisition price of $22 million. This building purchase presents many benefits that meet the needs and goals of the organization. Foremost, NCAI will gain long term financial sustainability by reducing its current occupancy costs, retaining rental income, and building equity and ownership in prime DC real estate. Second, NCAI will increase its available office space to meet the expansion needs of its growing organization. Finally, the building also allows us to house other national Indian organizations and tribes under one roof, thereby meeting our goal of enhanced collaboration and coordination.
We realize this is an aggressive purchase and move for the organization. However, against the backdrop of our $22 billion dollar gaming industry alone, I know we can do it. To date, we have been successful in raising approximately $500,000 for the Embassy in addition to a $1 million dollar challenge from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota.
I would like to personally follow up and challenge all tribal leaders to think in terms of your individual tribe's circumstances and how it fits into our “collective, united, national cause.” I would also like to urge the many vendors who work in Indian Country to do the same.
We need to raise a minimum of $7 million in order to secure the “down payment” and financing of this property. We want tribes to know we are looking for generous contribution. We are also open to tribes who would like to consider underwriting this investment and generating revenue for that contribution. If you are interested in this approach, please contact NCAI at (202) 466-7767 or www.ncai.org
The NCAI Embassy of Tribal Nations is a monumental initiative for Indian Country. Many anti-Indian groups are continuing to improve their organizational structure and influence in Washington, D.C. and we must let them know that we are a permanent fixture in the American political environment. I have been committed to this cause since I was first elected to NCAI as the Treasurer in 1989. Since then I have served as President, 1st Vice-President and again I'm serving as the Treasurer. Join me on that proud day when Indian Country places a major bookmark in our history book by making the Embassy of Tribal Nations a reality.
W. Ron Allen is Chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe and Treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). He can be reached by calling (360) 683-1109 or email firstname.lastname@example.org