By Michael “Keawe” Anderson
The startup of a new administration and Congress continues to leave Native Nations, corporations, and our communities with uncertainty over the government’s commitment to our sovereignty and the trust relationship prescribed in the Constitution, codified through treaties and statutes, and validated by the courts.
Native leaders agree this uncertainty has contributed to the relevance and purpose of Native associations in manifestation of Warrior Chief Tecumseh’s principle: “a single twig breaks, but a bundle of twigs is strong.”
The Census Bureau reports about 7.6 million American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, alone or in combination with other races, reside in the United States. The bureau estimates just American Indian/Alaska Natives alone or in combination—presently at 6.6 million—will grow to 10.2 million by 2060.
Native associations have work ahead of us. If left unattended or unsolved, the challenges faced today by our people and communities will be compounded by the increasing Native population and dwindling resources.
At the recent Northwest Enterprise Development Conference, hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, speaker Washington State Sen. John McCoy, a Tulalip resident and national leader, strongly encouraged us to “think outside the box; take control of your interests.”
What is our interest? The Native American Contractors Association is one “twig” that is bundled with our partner Native associations and stakeholders in our core belief that economic development is essential to self-determination and sovereignty. Our association employs four campaign tenets to advocate for our interests: Coalitions, unity, relationships and engagements (CURE):
Coalitions: In advocacy, more constituents are better than just one—a premise for forming associations and partnerships. Advocacy is more effective and successful with coalitions. The larger and more inclusive the coalition, the greater the potential to successfully influence policy makers and legislators.
Unity: Constituting a coalition is not enough; it must be united by a common purpose that all agree to and understand. Like a chorus, each singer contributes a unique voice that is united in the grand presentation. But If one member is off key, out of synch with others, or worse yet, sings another tune, then the overall presentation is disjointed and soured—and often that one is heard over all others.
Relationships: Relationships matter. They are the glue that binds coalitions and are derived through mutual respect that is cultivated and recognized. Transactional relationships are short-lived and limited in their impact. However, relationships built upon trust, respect and nurtured over time are long-standing, dependable and enriching. Ideally, relationships are established with all stakeholders—those who support, and those who don’t support a viewpoint. Diverse opinions are valuable—one who is supportive on an issue, may see another issue differently. Use these relationships to strengthen awareness and understanding.
Engagements: With the coalitions formed and the relationships established, it’s time to engage the decision makers. They may be policy makers, legislators and/or other groups and communities. A personal dialogue with decision makers cannot be overrated. But today’s environment recognizes that effective and efficient communication is a component of engagement, making social media a critical tool for success.
There is much work ahead of Native associations to overcome today’s uncertainties and move our people, our communities, our interests forward. Resolving longstanding issues is our “must do” imperative; we can agree to four tenets to successfully organize our advocacy efforts. CURE will effectively underpin our efforts to mitigate and resolve the issues that have plagued our people and communities for too long.
Visit NACA’s website at www.nativecontractors.org.
Michael ìKeaweî Anderson is the executive director of the Native American Contractors Association, which protects the rights of indigenous people to create economic development through government contracting. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.