United South and Eastern Tribes Commemorates its 40th Anniversary
By B. Lynne Harlan
Last week, the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. celebrated its 40th Anniversary. Founded in 1969 by the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the Mississippi Choctaw, the Miccosukee Tribe and the Seminole tribe of Florida, USET, as it has come to be known, has served as an advocate for tribal concerns for Native Nations east of the Mississippi River in Washington, DC.
“This past week, I was fortunate to attend the 40th Anniversary of the United South and Eastern Tribes,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “The Seminole Tribe of Florida graciously hosted this event at their Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, FL. The meetings began with the recognition and honor of the four founding tribes and the previous presidents of USET, including former Chief Jonathan Taylor.”
Chief Hicks continued, “I am always pleased to attend USET meetings and see the way that the 25 tribes comprising this organization work together in harmony towards a mutual goal of protecting the sovereignty of Native Tribes across the United States. I felt very honored to celebrate this milestone with our neighboring tribes and look forward to continuing to build partnerships because it is only by working together that we will affect real change.”
This year’s conference paid homage to the four founding tribes and recognized contributions to the USET organization by past and present leaders. Former Principal Chief Jonathan Taylor also served the USET organization and joined current tribal leaders at the celebration. Chief Taylor’s presentation was attended by many current leaders who had never heard a first hand account of the work of USET during the formative years.
Other leaders attending the meeting included Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Jodi Gillette, Associate Director – Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House and Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) also made presentations. Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs for the Department of the Interior, John Echohawk, Native American Rights Fund, and Yvette Roubideaux, Director of Indian Health Service also spoke during the event.
Several EBCI tribal leaders attended the event including Principal Chief Hicks, Vice Chief Blythe, Tribal Council Chairman Jim Owle and Vice Chairman B Ensley. The Eastern Band of Cherokee hosted a lunch and presented commemorative river cane mats to leaders from the founding tribes and to the USET corporate offices.
Through the years USET has grown to include 25 tribes east of the Mississippi River. The USET tribes go to Capital Hill annually to take their issues to Congress en masse. Issues which range from health care to the environment to cultural resources protection have working committees during USET conferences. Tribes discuss their challenges and develop strategies to reach out to lawmakers. Many critical issues are directly related to funding which comes to tribes through federal appropriations.
USET and other Native advocacy programs like the National Congress of American Indians are vital to the advancement of our communities which have historically lagged behind the rest of the country in access to health care, educational opportunities and improved housing. Through the years, the leaders of USET have worked to insure that our people have a voice in the National government. Their most vital work, however, is in building a support system for tribal leaders to learn governance with a network of mentors. Each of the tribes of USET will celebrate the history of the organization while also charting a course for another 40 years.