President Begaye addresses tribal leaders in Rapid City to encourage tribal unity

RAPID CITY— President of the Navajo Nation Kelsey A. Begaye presented at the “New Millennium for Indian Tribes — Strength Through Treaties Conference.” President Begaye, along with Governor of the Pueblo of Zuni, Malcolm Bowekaty presented before the conference to generate support for the Tribal Leaders Initiative.

The Southwest Tribal Leaders Initiative began in 1998 to discuss common issues among the tribes of the southwestern United States, mainly of Arizona and New Mexico. According to President Begaye, the initiative is receiving great support.

The next proposed meeting of the Tribal Leaders will be in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from November 30- December 1, 2000, with Indian nations of the northwest and Oklahoma expected to attend.

The conference, sponsored by the Standing Rock, Oglala, Crow Creek, and the Yankton Sioux Nations, was held in Rapid City, South Dakota from October 20-31, 2000 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Among the topics of discussion were treaty issues, trust responsibility, water rights, land issues, and cultural resources.

“New Millennium For Indian Tribes — Strength Through Treaties Conference”

Statement by President Kelsey Begaye

The Southwest Tribal Leaders have been conducting meeting since 1998. We are here in Rapid City, South Dakota to help further our efforts. We have had discussions over the past two years to promote an initiative that would embody a similar objective to the historic American Indian Tribal Leaders Association.

I would like to impress upon the leaders and citizens of the Sioux Nations that since the power of tribes stems from various treaties signed with the federal government.

Treaties are significant in that they provide for the education of our children, the recognition of our Veterans and the protection of land and water rights.

Treaties give tribes power. Self-governance is the type of power we should continue to exercise. In the past, Tribal governments have made treaties with the federal government, state governments and even other countries. Nowadays, we are limited in the types of treaties we can enter into. What has survived through is our ability and our power to make treaties with one another. If there’s something we should point out to the federal government it is that tribes can work things out on their own — they can solve their own problems; and this is the true exercise of our sovereign rights.

We need to continue to protect our water rights, our land rights, and our fishing rights. In support of this, we need to protect our treaties.

The Navajo Nation has two treaties— the Treaty of 1849 and the Treaty of 1868. The Treaty 1868 was signed in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. At Fort Sumner, the Navajos demonstrated the power of unity. With one hope, one vision, one dream and one song — their call for unity is what brought them home.

In our efforts, we need this kind of unity to build on common issues.

We had the honor of bringing the document, the Treaty of 1868, to Northern Arizona University. The treaty was on public display for one year in 1998. The display of the 1868 Treaty was a very emotional event for the people of the Navajo Nation.

Our hope is that someday, we can return the 1868 Treaty back to the home of the Navajo Nation. This is something the Navajo Nation is working, thanks to the assistance of the Navajo Nation Council.

Treaties have helped to establish the relationship with the federal government. It has helped shape current federal Indian policy.

In March of 1871, the federal treaty-making process ended.

In line with the idea of unity and self-governance which the treaties have afforded us, the Navajo Nation has developed and implemented two guiding principles: (1) the preservation of Navajo culture, tradition, and language; and (2) the preservation, protection, and enhancement of Navajo sovereignty.

With that in mind, I want to explain what sovereignty means to me. It means that we have the ability to govern ourselves, to shape our own destinies. It means that we are truly self-sufficient, that we are self-sustaining and therefore prosperous.

What is our mission, our goal, our objective? We should encourage and promote one hope and one vision.

I can envision tribal leaders and members filling up the National Mall in Washington, DC — declaring acknowledgment of our treaty rights.

The tribal leaders need to meet with the new President in January of 2001. I have had the pleasure of meeting Presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore and their running mates. In my meeting with them, I made a point to remind them that sovereignty is still alive, and that a new administration should continue to promote the established government-to-government relationship policies pushed by President Clinton.

The Southwest Tribal Leaders have envisioned a national meeting of tribal leaders at Haskell Indian University in Lawrence, Kansas in May 2001. Our hopes are to push for a proactive agenda. We must continue to remain positive and constructive, as we set to discuss common tribal issues.

I have worked hard to promote the idea that individuals have great power. I try to promote the empowerment of individuals because strong individuals make strong families, and strong families make strong communities. There are ethical and moral standards, including spiritual values that also make strong communities. These standards and values need to be passed on to our leaders.

In this respect, strong communities produce strong leaders. Furthermore, strong leaders make a strong nation. Strong nations make a strong Indian County. This is what we hope our efforts will develop.

The leaders of the Southwest Indian tribes, including the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Zuni are committed in helping to promote ideas. We hope you can join us.

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