Tribal Government & News

Record turnout for 2024 ATNI Winter Convention

02.15.2024 Sherron Lumley Tribal relations, ATNI
Tribal member and Bureau of Indian Affairs Northwest Regional Office Director Bryan Mercier gives an office report during the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians 2024 Winter Convention on Monday, Jan. 29, held at the Hyatt Regency Portland Convention Center. (Photos by Michelle Alaimo)


By Sherron Lumley

Smoke Signals staff writer

PORTLAND -- The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians 2024 Winter Convention opened Monday, Jan. 29, at the Hyatt Regency Portland Convention Center.

More than 500 people attended, representing 33 of 57 Tribes from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Northern California, Southeast Alaska and Western Montana.

“We are looked upon as a force within on a national level,” ATNI President Leonard Forsman said. “Our traditions, our way of life is important to this nation.”

Grand Ronde Tribal Council members in attendance were Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy, Kathleen George, Jon A. George, Denise Harvey, Lisa Leno and Brenda Tuomi, who was a flag bearer in the opening procession.

George was sworn in as the second vice president, an executive board member position of the organization, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. He vowed to preserve aboriginal rights secured under Indian treaties and agreements with the U.S., and to promote health, welfare, education, culture and sovereignty of American Indians, nations, Tribes, bands and people. Later in the morning, he nominated Harvey to serve as an alternate on the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the formation of the committee in 2021. STAC, as it is often called, includes a primary Tribal representative from each of 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs regions in the U.S. and one alternate from each. The vote during the convention provides an endorsement, with the final decision made by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Harvey, who serves on the Indian Gaming Association board, spoke before the convention in response to the nomination, emphasizing her commitment to advocating for Tribal children.

“I’ve learned over 10 years on Tribal Council, and 20 working for the Tribe, it is a passion and interest to be there for all of Indian Country,” Harvey said. “I thank my Tribal Council for allowing me to do this work.”

President Forsman, who serves as chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, discussed challenges and opportunities for the Affiliated Tribes. This included the White House Tribal Nations Summit in December, where he noted Northwest Tribes were well represented. Other important issues mentioned were natural resources, climate change, clean energy, cultural sacred places and “getting our people out to vote.”

Financial reports showed total income of $4,768,428, including grants, allowing ATNI to hire staff and buy a building, which will serve as a Tribal embassy in Portland.

Northwest Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Grand Ronde Tribal member Bryan Mercier presented details about work to fund requests from 27 Tribes, including $3.3 million in one-time requests.

Mercier provided background regarding the bureau’s real estate services, noting a land-back achievement of 12,000 acres in this region, which is the most in the country at nearly one-third of all land acquired by Tribes nationally. He also reported $240 million for Tribal hatcheries and nearly $187 million for broadband.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Ojibwe) shared stories from the Pacific Northwest, including bringing electricity to people who never had it before, clean drinking water, and repairing and improving fish hatcheries. He also said the Bureau of Indian Affairs increased procurement of goods and services purchased from Indian-owned businesses to $1.4 billion last year.

Newland, now in his post for three years, has made six visits to the Pacific Northwest, including one with Mercier to the Metlakatla Native Community on Annette Island, Alaska’s last Native reserve. Recently featured in the Amazon series, “Alaskan Nets,” it is home to the state’s basketball champions, and Native Tsimshian  fishermen.

“As someone who grew up on a little reservation, I didn’t always feel seen or heard,” Newland said. “It’s important to get on the ground to your communities. These visits are meaningful for all of us who work at the department.”

Additional national speakers followed, including National Congress of American Indians President Mark Macarro, who also serves as Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians.

Founded in 1944, NCAI celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. It advocates for Tribal governments and Tribal-federal government-to-government policies. NCAI General Counsel and Chief of Staff Geoffrey Blackwell (Chickasaw) also spoke, sharing an update on the Tribal Supreme Court Project of the Native American Rights Fund.

 “We need to be engaged in the electoral process from top to bottom,” Macarro said.  “Elections matter.”

Macarro, as others before him, further touched upon pressing issues such as fentanyl and mental health, as well as generational trauma, including boarding schools.

NCAI co-organized the National Tribal Opioid Summit with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and Tribal partners in August 2023, held at the Tulalip Tribe in Washington. Fentanyl overdose deaths exceeded deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic in some Tribes. In Multnomah County, where the ATNI convention was held, overdose rates rose 533% in four years.  

 “We create a stronger voice when our voices are in tune with each other,” Macarro said.

  He also recommended “Sugar Cane,” a recent entry of Sundance Film Festival, a movie about the St. Joseph Mission School out of British Columbia.

Casey Sixkiller (Cherokee Nation), Region 10 director of the Environmental Protection Agency completed the morning’s run of speakers. Sixkiller gave attendees a sneak peak of the Clean Water Act. He discussed the environmental toxic chemical found in vehicle tires known as 6ppd that kills fish and the need to educate people about it.

 Lastly, a raffle was held for Portland Trailblazer tickets to the see the Blazers play the 76ers, won by Chad McCray, Spokane Tribe.

Following this, Yakama Nation’s Deland Olney blessed the food, with many throughout the large Regency ballroom at the Hyatt joining their voices to his powerful voice.

Meanwhile, the vendors came to life behind their tables, selling Native clothing, shoes, and beaded jewelry. More tables were staffed by employees of universities from Idaho, Oregon and Washington, as well as state and federal agencies.

Founded in 1953, ATNI is a forum for exchanging information, forming consensus and making recommendations on legislation for matters of mutual concern of member Tribes. Committees include cultural affairs, economic development, natural resources, environment, human and social services and ad hoc task forces.