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Quapaw Nation Represented At the White House TRIBAL NATIONS SUMMIT 2022 OP-ED

Last month, I had the honor of traveling with a delegation of Chiefs to Washington D.C. to represent the Quapaw Nation at the White House Tribal Nations Summit. This Summit was started in the Obama Administration, was suspended during the Trump Administration, and held virtually in the Biden Administration. This year marked the first time in six years that this summit was held in person, and approximately 300 tribal nations were represented. The White House Tribal Nations Summit provides an opportunity to engage directly with senior Administration officials and to foster a relationship built on respect for tribal sovereignty and self-governance, honoring federal trust and treaty responsibilities, protecting tribal homelands, and conducting regular, meaningful, and robust consultation.

Prior to the start of the summit, I visited the Department of Justice to meet with officials from the Office of Tribal Justice and the Environmental and Natural Resources Division. Topics of discussion included environmental justice and water rights adjudication. I took this opportunity to advocate for our reservation water rights which are still preserved and will be of upmost importance as we continue to experience global climate change and a shortage of water. It will be beneficial for Quapaw Nation to quantify those rights and this conversation was the first step in doing so. I also took the opportunity to briefly explain the status of the Bear settlement and that because it had stalled in Congress this session, it was still a failure of the federal government to uphold its federal-trust responsibility to Quapaw Nation. Only when the funds have been appropriated and distributed to us will it be complete, but until that time we will continue to pressure the federal government to live up to its word. I anticipate further meetings with DOJ officials to meet and discuss these important topics further in the days to come.

The summit kicked off with a welcome from Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, who introduced President Biden. The President's remarks included the announcement of a Presidential Memorandum establishing uniform standards to be implemented across all federal agencies regarding how Tribal consultations are conducted. This will also require annual training for federal employees who work with Tribal Nation or on policies with Tribal implications. In alignment with this Presidential Memorandum, nine agencies will implement new or updated tribal consultation policies. These include the Department of Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Additional remarks reaffirmed this administration's commitment to strengthen and partner with tribal nations to uphold trust and treaty obligations, to invest in infrastructure across Indian Country, improve health care for tribal citizens, restore and protect tribal homelands, and strengthen tribal economies.

Other topics of the 2-day summit included Education and Native Language revitalization, Mental Health, Climate and Clean Energy, and access to capital and economic development. In addition to the American Recovery Plan, what we know as ARPA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act were also topics of discussion. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides more than $13 billion in direct funding to support Tribal communities and makes tribes eligible to apply for and request billions more. This includes initiatives in areas such as internet, roads, bridges, public transit, clean water and sanitation improvements. The BIL makes the largest single investment in tribal infrastructure in US history. The Inflation Reduction Act is intended to build a clean energy economy and combat climate change by providing funding for tribes to plan for and adapt to climate change, mitigate drought, and shift to clean energy production. The IRA provides more than $720 million in direct climate resilience and energy funding to support tribal nations.

Overall, the White House Tribal Nations Summit fostered a high-energy environment of tribal leaders from across Indian Country, all focused on positive outcomes for their people and tribal communities. I enjoyed the experience of witnessing all the amazing projects that were funded and executed over the last couple of years during a hard period of uncertainty due to the covid pandemic. From solar farms to youth and language centers, Indian Country has made significant strides with this funding. Quapaw Nation focused its efforts on technology and public safety to better respond to our citizens, and it invested in our employees to minimize impacts to our daily operations. During this challenging time, the Business Committee also made the conscious decision to distribute $24.67 million dollars in covid relief directly to our citizens to address the financial hardships they encountered. To date, this is the largest sum of money to have ever been distributed by the tribe and I remain honored and humbled to serve as the Chairman through this period.

There remains much work to be done to secure a good future for the next generation and the White House Tribal Nations Summit was great motivation for me as an elected official of our tribe. The amount of information was significant but my key takeaways from this summit are as follows: Quapaw Nation must be more strategic in every facet and we must extend beyond dependency on gaming dollars to a more independent financial position. Quapaw Nation must be more aggressive and methodical when it comes to grant applications to expand our programs and services to our people. Lastly, Quapaw Nation must be even more forward thinking in its approach to provide a long-term sustainable future for generations to come. The time is now, and as Ogahpah people, our time is now.

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