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During the 80th Annual National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Conference in New Orleans, two Constitutional amendments were voted on which would exclude state recognized tribes, such as the United Houma Nation, from voting membership and leadership positions within the NCAI. Both amendments did not pass.
“The NCAI is the largest representative political policymaking body in the country for Native Americans, so a lot of government agencies look to the NCAI to determine what the Native American consensus is on particular government policies,” said Michael Billiot with the United Houma Nation. “Something we do in the NCAI is pass resolutions to declare what our stance is be on any particular issue relating to us. So, it is very important for the United Houma Nation to have a voting voice within the NCAI.”
Billiot went on to explain that the two proposed amendments would have allowed only federally recognized tribes, and not state recognized tribes, to be voting members and hold leadership positions within the NCAI, and therefore have a voice in the resolutions passed by the organization–which ultimately go on to influence national policies. The United Houma Nation is the largest Native American tribe within the state of Louisiana with 19,000 members, with Terrebonne Parish holding the highest concentration of Native Americans within the state. As a currently state recognized tribe, The proposed Constitutional amendments would have barred members of the United Houma Nation from voting membership within the NCAI, and effectively removed Chief Lora Ann Chaisson from the Board of the NCAI. Read more about what it means to be a federally recognized tribe here.
Both amendments were voted on Thursday morning during the Annual Conference, and each one failed to pass. “There is still some work to be done within the National Congress in regards to members from states who do not have proper recognition criteria,” said Billiot. “But hopefully, now the work can be done. We are very happy with the results of the amendment.”
Billiot continued to detail why having proper recognition criteria within states is so important for tribes. “When there is no official criteria for tribes to become state-recognized, that makes our national organization question the legitimacy of state-recognized tribes,” said Billiot. “The lack of criteria, and the distrust it creates within the national organization, is the very reason the amendments barring state-recognized tribes from voting and leadership positions were even considered.”
The state of Louisiana has now, for the first time ever, officially created a task force to help create criteria for Louisiana tribes to become state-recognized. “This creation of criteria in the state of Louisiana is a huge step forward for us and all state-recognized tribes,” said Billiot. “There are many states facing significant issues in regards to recognizing state tribes, so we are glad Louisiana is making this effort.”
For more information about the United Houma Nation, please visit their Facebook.