First Indigenous Tribal Leader to Receive U.S. State Department Diplomatic Credentials

Photo Credit: National Congress of the American Indians

By: Samantha Walker

Washington, DC, NOV. 3: Last Wednesday National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp was announced as a delegate for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

President Sharp is the 23rd President of the NCAI, the oldest and most representative United States Indigenous and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the country.

Sharp has held numerous leadership positions, including Vice President of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington, staff attorney for the Quinault Indian Nation, and as an administrative law judge for the Washington state Department of Revenue.

President Sharp is the first Tribal leader elected exclusively by tribal citizens to receive these credentials from the United States Department of State in American history.

When asked about the historic event, Sharp said, “As I accept the honor of being the first tribal leader to receive full credentials as a delegate to the United Nations Conference of Parties, I do so with an incredible sense of optimism, because I know the invaluable contributions to the fight against Climate Change that Native Americans and our Indigenous relatives globally will make to turn the tide.”

The purpose of the summit is a collaboration between nations to construct a plan on how to address the global climate crisis.

Considering the traditions of most Native American tribes being tied to the environment and utilizing only what is necessary while preserving the land, some argue that Indigenous peoples are some of the most experienced in understanding the steps needed to aid in the fight against the climate crisis.

On this topic, the National Congress of the American Indians said, “Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities globally have a different and unique sense of land and place rooted in, and often dependent upon, their environment and local natural resources for cultural practices, traditions, community, food, economies, and ways of life. As a result, Tribal Nations and Indigenous populations possess longstanding traditional ecological knowledge and expertise in environmental sustainability that must be included in the international discourse on combatting climate change.”

Sharing in this opinion, President Sharp said, “It is impossible to confront the global existential crisis of climate change without the active leadership and engagement of the world’s Indigenous peoples, and the Tribal Nations of the United States of America have an incomparable brain trust of leaders, scientists, and policymakers who are ready to lead that effort. Indigenous communities globally have one thing in common: we are resilient survivors, and we will help lead the world through this challenge to a brighter, more just, and more sustainable future.”

Aside from the connection between the environment and native culture, it is also important to note that by giving a tribal leader the title of a delegate at a United Nations conference, there is a suggestion of sovereignty.

The idea of sovereignty, specifically from the United States, is something Indigenous tribes in America have been demanding for generations. Though this might not have been the intent, considering President Sharp was exclusively elected by the tribal community, it is a step towards recognition apart from the United States government and a victory for tribes looking for separation.

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