Suzette Brewer
Panel speakers at the Native American Council on the first day of the Democratic National Convention included, from left, Charles Galbraith (Navajo), Rion Ramirez (Saquamish), Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux) and Kimberly Teehee (Cherokee).

Native American Council Kicks Off the DNC

Suzette Brewer

As their kick-off of the Democratic National Convention, hundreds of representatives from tribal nations, met with party officials, former policy advisors to the White House and members of Congress at the Native American Council Monday morning to discuss the progress made under the Obama administration and to talk about continuing that work.

The council, which has met at every Democratic convention in recent history, featured a brief panel discussion by tribal members who have worked in the Obama administration, including Charles Galbraith (Navajo), former Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, and Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux) and Kimberly Teehee (Cherokee Nation), both of whom served as senior policy advisors for Native American Affairs on the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of Gila River Indian Community, shaking hands with Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). (Suzette Brewer)

The panel praised the historic impact of Obama in respecting tribal governments as partners and collaborators in regards to working to improve the numerous issues facing Native communities, including infrastructure, housing, education, healthcare, jurisdiction and child welfare, as well as his signature Generation Indigenous initiative. But they also noted the importance of continuing and maintained what they termed as the “high level” of Congressional engagement and policymaking at the national level.

“The idea is to support life [in Native communities] and to have every tool possible so that Indian people can achieve their part of the American dream and live according to their beliefs in wholeness and respect,” Gillette told the standing room only audience. “But we have to set the expectations now. Because even though we’ve made a lot of progress, we still have a lot of problems in Indian country, including drugs, violence, poor housing and inadequate healthcare. We haven’t gone far enough, so what began with Obama must continue.”

Other speakers included Congressmen Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Mike Honda (D-CA) and legendary Civil Rights leader John Lewis (D-GA), who came to the council to show his support as an ally for Native Americans, who are often underrepresented in the electoral process. Lewis began his remarks by encouraging the audience to get involved in the process.

“This is your land, but we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters,” said Lewis. “We must teach our children, all of our children, the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. Be hopeful, be optimistic, be happy―and never, ever give up.”

The key issue among both the speakers and the audience members was the call-to-action to get out the vote among Native American voters in November. Meanwhile, staff members from the National Congress of American Indians handed out pamphlets to promote its Every Native Vote Counts initiative.

Today’s schedule includes councils for Seniors, Rural communities, and Youth. Tonight, former President Bill Clinton will be addressing the convention.

For a full schedule of events and speakers, please go here.

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