The National Congress of American Indians, meeting in Anchorage this week for its mid-year conference, is uniting to get its voice and issues heard even more.
Alaska is home to nearly half of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, some of which are in Anchorage as part of the conference. The idea is to listen and learn about common issues, so they can pool their resources toward a shared goal of substantive changes.
"Even though we are diverse, we are different; we still have the same issues that we deal with like housing issues, health care issues, infrastructure issues," said Brian Cladoosby, NCAI's president and the chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Country.
Cladoosby cites Alaska Natives as a powerful force in state politics, saying they were instrumental in helping to secure Sen. Lisa Murkowski's historic 2010 write-in re-election victory after Joe Miller won the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination.
"Just four years ago, here in Alaska, our Native people showed that every Native vote counts," Cladoosby said.
The NCAI, the largest representation of tribal governments in the U.S., wants to tap into that solidarity to help communities throughout Indian Country, no matter what they are dealing with.
"One thing that we all have in common is the ability to provide the best essential governmental services for our people," Cladoosby said.
Federal government officials say they are working to improve services. At the NCAI conference, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn talked about a proposal to ensure safe and secure lands.
"Tribes would say this is land we would like to take into trust," said Washburn. "It's a voluntary-type thing and it would be land that tribes already have purchased."
Leaders at the conference say forging a consensus means standing up together to the powers that be, in order to make a difference in changing policy and changing how their tribes' members live.
"They knew early on that we were going to be a force to be partner with," said Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of NCAI.
The NCAI conference continues in Anchorage through Wednesday, when final resolutions on policy will be passed.