President Begaye will moderate conference panel

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye testifies on Sept. 16 before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Begaye has signed a resolution requiring the tribe's chief justice to have a law degree.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye will be among the tribal leaders who will attend the White House Tribal Nations Conference on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The conference, which is entering its seventh year, provides leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with federal officials and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

Assisting Begaye in preparing for the conference is the Navajo Nation Washington Office, which serves as the tribe’s primary point of contact for monitoring and addressing issues that impact the tribe at the federal level.

In addition, the office serves as the tribe's advocate with Congress and other federal agencies.

Jackson Brossy, executive director of the office, said Begaye will be in the nation’s capital on Wednesday and Thursday.

As part of the pre-conference events, Begaye will moderate a panel discussion about tribal sovereignty and self-governance with tribal affairs representatives Wednesday afternoon, Brossy said.

The representatives will be from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Brossy said tribal sovereignty is a topic Begaye cares about greatly.

The Navajo Nation Washington Office is coordinating talking points for the panel discussion and working with other tribal nations to make sure the questions asked are beneficial to the tribes, Brossy said.

In terms of the conference, Brossy said the Navajo Nation is interested to find out what the Obama Administration can accomplish in its last year in office.

Since the first conference in November 2009, the White House has done a great job of promoting policies that tackle issues facing tribes or that increase authority held by tribes, Brossy said.

Still, tribes face some common issues.

One example is fulfilling the post of senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs, which has been vacant since Jodi Gillette left the White House position on May 14. Continuing to leave that post unfilled is “hurting tribes,” Brossy said.

Another shared issue for tribal leaders is advocating a seat on the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

Brossy said the council initiative is “great,” but there is a need to have tribal leaders at the table.

A tentative schedule for the White House Tribal Nations Conference was released by the White House on Friday.

Obama will address the tribal leaders in the late afternoon, according to the schedule.

The Department of the Interior announced Monday that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will deliver the opening remarks and participate in one of three town hall sessions.

Previous conferences were held at the Interior Department, but this year's event will be at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The location changed because of renovations at the Interior Department.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.