After spending six days in Alaska after a successful mid-year NCAI conference and now having a couple of times back at home I finally feel up to looking back at my experience. This wasn’t my first NCAI conference but it was my first visit to Alaska. It is a beautiful place and I had the opportunity to take a drive on the Seward Highway and see some amazing views and I would love the chance visit again except this time on a vacation so I can see and do more. Of course, though, there were some stuff that I didn’t enjoy – the first being the weather as it was a bit more colder then I like (but at least I didn’t go in winter) and the amount of daylight hours was interesting at first but after a few days I was really missing having nights to see the stars and be able to sleep (it really messed up my sleeping schedule).
Enough though of my personal thoughts on my recent trip and let me get down to some observations and reflections of my trip. Listening to many of the general and breakout sessions from the conference I realize that while Indian Tribes have comes a long way in trying to address the number of social and economic conditions that inflict our people – from poverty, high dropout rates, high mortality rates to trying to establish viable and growing communities – there is a long way to go. While each Tribe has to address their own conditions on their own lands, I also recognize that when we also act in a unified fashion, as NCAI allows us to do, then we enhance our changes to make a meaningful difference on a national front and promote legislation that protects and promotes our people and their survival while preserving our cultural heritage. For Native people, the preservation of our culture must remain a high priority while we move forward towards growing our Native communities especially in terms of economic development. Without our language, our traditions/culture, and our history, then we lose who we are as a people. I was reminded of this when at the conference when we attended a reception at the Alaska Native Cultural Center and was able to see a number of their youth who were active in the traditional dance, songs, and regalia making that defined their villages and this couples with the Youth Congress from NCAI where Native youth address issues that are of concern to them and to report that back to the General Assembly.
The NCAI Conference again as made me proud to be not only an elected official who is working to improve conditions on my own Tribe, but also as a member of a people that have not been completely assimilated. These are my initial thoughts from the conference but I intend to follow up this blog with another entry that takes my overall impressions that I detailed above and relate them back to a more local approach to governance and the development of the social, economic, and community needs for my own Tribe.