Northwest tribes gather at 60th annual convention | Events
Members representing 40 tribes from across the Northwest region are meeting this week at the Coeur d' Alene Casino for the 60th Annual Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians Fall Convention. The convention allows the tribes to share tradition while finding a common ground for the future.
It's a convention that's still steeped in tradition 60 years after the ATNI was established. In 1953, leaders from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Spokane Tribe, Colville Tribe, Yakama Nation and Tulalip Tribe, held the first meeting of the ATNI to discuss the issues of income taxes and how to protect their tribal governments from being disbanded by the U.S. government through the Termination Act.
While the issues being discussed have changed since that initial meeting, the reasons behind joining together are still the same.
“Strength in numbers. That's completely it,” explained Jamie Sijohn, ATNI Communications Manager. “They can pull together and find a solution for issues that effect them all.”
The founding leaders joined together to protect their rights and to preserve their culture, and in 2013 that's still the driving force behind ATNI, but the topics of discussion have changed. Tribal members from the 40 tribes are discussing a range of issues during break away sessions. This year's topics include healthcare, natural resources and megaloads, and inter-tribal trade.
One of the larger issues is the Native Vote, a grassroots movement that is working to get tribal members to register to vote, and to get polling locations on the reservations. Some states do not recognize tribal identification cards as official forms of ID, which blocks natives from registering to vote. Another goal of Native Vote is to provide members with information on candidates that align with the values and concerns of local tribes.
“We're coming from very humble beginnings,” said ATNI Executive Director Teri Parr. “They continue to work hard to meet the challenges that we face.”
It's these challenges that Joanna Meninick told the room to face when she addressed the crowd in her native language on Tuesday afternoon. Meninick, who is one of the longest attending members of ATNI, switched to English expressing heartbreak that she has to do so in order to be understood.
“Fight with your native language,” Meninick said, adding that the tribes won't be heard if they speak the language of Washington, DC. She had one more call to action for her community following the three days of discussion and talk.
“Now do something,” said Meninick.