By Kristi Eaton
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Thousands of Native American tribal members from across the country are coming to Oklahoma next week to discuss revitalizing languages, combatting violence against women, protecting sacred sites and other topics.
The tribal members will be in Tulsa for the 70th annual National Congress of the American Indian convention, which starts Sunday. The convention is where delegates from tribes all over the United States vote on resolutions on issues important to their communities, said Diane Kelly, past secretary for NCAI and chair of the local planning group.
An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people are expected to turn out for the six-day event that will include speeches by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and leaders of various tribes.
The National Congress of American Indians was started to lobby the U.S. government in Washington, D.C., on issues important to Native Americans, said Kelly, who is executive director of Career Services for the Cherokee Nation.
“It’s a time for us to reflect on the last 70 years — where we started and where we are today. It’s an avenue for us to build on and make the Indian tribes that much stronger,” Kelly said.
The group’s first convention was held in Denver in 1944, and tribes in Oklahoma gathered in Oklahoma City to travel by train to the event, Kelly said. “So it’s very befitting that on the 70th anniversary it would come back to Oklahoma. There were a lot of tribes here in Oklahoma that were instrumental in getting it started,” said Kelly.
This year’s event will include sessions about preserving Native languages, updates on the implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, implementing the federal health care law for tribal governments, natural resources and developing a plan and recommendations to revise how tribes are federally recognized. A few of the resolutions that will be voted on include urging the U.S. Congress to fund an American Indian Holocaust Memorial Museum and requesting a federal review of whether or not sacred tribal sites were taken without consent.
Other events are also planned in conjunction with the convention, including a Cherokee Art Market and fashion show fundraiser to raise money for scholarships for Native American students.
“If you’re interested in Indian culture, Tulsa is the place to be this week because you will get firsthand information from all these different tribes about their culture,” Kelly said.