State of Indian Nations speaker wants brighter future for youths

April 9, 2009 by Andi Murphy Round Up

Joe A. Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, will be making his “State of the Indian Nations” address at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo courtesy of the Indian Resource Development Program)

Joe A. Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians. (NMSU photo courtesy of the Indian Resource Development Program)

The NMSU Indian Resource Development program brought one Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo) to campus so he could speak of Native American issues and spread a bit of hope by bringing up plans to resolve those issues.Joe A. Garcia is the president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest group representing more than 250 tribes, dedicated to promoting Native Americans and exposing their issues to the federal government. Garcia is also a chairman on the All-Indian Pueblo Council, a council including all of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes.

“They don’t tell you to come back and help your people,” Garcia said.

One point he stressed to make was the education of children and the problems with the current educational system.

Native Americans are told, even by their own people, to get an education, find a good job and make a happy family, Garcia said. But they don’t tell their children to come back and help develop the communities and reservations from which they come, he said.

The way to get Natives back home is economic development, he said. It starts with building a building at home, he said. When a building is up, people will work there and use their education at home to help their people.

The education system is a system that keeps a people – tribe – back and is erasing important facts from history, he said.

Garcia spoke of a previous speech he gave at Harvard. He asked the students if they knew anything of the Pueblo Revolt against the Roman Catholic Church in 1680 or of Popé, a Pueblo leader. Only five of the hundreds of students in attendance knew of either event.

Then he turned to his audience Tuesday and asked them what the first civil rights case was – even before civil rights cases of African Americans. No one knew, so he explained it was in 1879 that Chief Standing Bear, a Ponca Native of Nebraska, was involved in a U.S. District Court case where the court agreed that Chief Standing Bear was a human being. Before this court hearing, Ponca Natives or other Natives weren’t human.

It’s a distortion of history, he said.

He hopes children and people in school will learn about Native history and understand Native Americans more.

“We can’t change history, but we can change the way in which we go,” Garcia said.

Garcia has even more hope now that Obama is president.

“President Obama is more knowledgeable about the real needs of American Indians,” Garcia said. “He [Obama] means business, he means change.”

Obama is one of the few presidents who is taking Native Americans into consideration, Garcia said. Working closely with Washington officials, Garcia has already seen a change in the way federal agencies engage Native Americans and their issues, he said. But there is still cause for more nation to nation interaction.

“We can step up to the plate and work with the federal government,” Garcia said. “Work with Congress.”

He would like to see more advocates get into Congress and change things legally, at a national level, he said.

Garcia said the federal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently making it difficult for any development to happen on Native country. The BIA works for the federal government and the two live by state laws that restrict new ideas.

Garcia also spoke of some important issues he stated in his State of Indian Nations address he gave in February. He talked about the need and improvement of public safety on Native lands, the need to improve health care and more economic development. He also dipped into protecting Native lands by protecting the water, air and mountains of “Mother Earth.”

“There will be a better tomorrow for our young ones,” Garcia said. “We have to be engaged … be proud of who you are.”

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