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Native Americans Are Ready To Party For Obama

Jan 16, 2013

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, in less than a week the country will celebrate President Obama's second term with a slew of inaugural events. There is a swearing in, a parade, breakfasts, lunches, and of course the balls. And there are many of them, but we want to tell you about one of them. It is the Native Nations Inaugural Ball. Native Americans from around the country will be coming in to participate.

Jessica Imotichey is a senior policy analyst for the Chickasaw Nation, and a member of the Inaugural Ball's Host Committee. Also with us is Kevin Gover. He is director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, a member of the Pawnee Tribe. And the museum is hosting the ball. And thank you both so much for joining us.

KEVIN GOVER: You're welcome. Good to be here.

Good to be here.

MARTIN: Now Kevin, there have been inaugural events, I mean Native Americans have had inaugural events for, you know, quite some time now. But this is the first at the museum. Why do you think that's important?

GOVER: Well, it's a first at the museum. We wanted to do a couple of things. One is to give a tribal ball that had a higher profile, a better location, and sort of be on the circuit here in Washington, and it's really an expression of the greater engagement and influence that the Native Nations have in the nation's political process now. And this is a flagship facility, right there at the foot of the Capitol, and so we thought that would be a good idea.

MARTIN: Jessica, what are some of the distinctive features that you'll find at this ball that you won't find at others?

JESSICA IMOTICHEY: I think it's going to be really interesting because there's going to be several tribal leaders that are coming into town - and they're going to be both dressed in black tie, they're going to be in native regalia. I think that's going to be really exciting for people to see and attend and be a part of. There's a host of Native entertainment.

MARTIN: I think we're going to give you a taste of that too.

IMOTICHEY: Oh, good.

MARTIN: We're going to give you a taste of some of the artists that you'll be hearing from. We're going to hear a little bit from them. One of the things that I think is interesting for people to think about is that a Native Nation's Ball, it's a slightly different relationship, right? The Native Nations have a slightly different relationship with the president than perhaps other people who'll be coming to Washington...

IMOTICHEY: That's right.

MARTIN: ...to participate in these events. Could you just describe what that is for people who don't know?

IMOTICHEY: So it's more of a direct government to government relationship. Tribes are sovereign governments in the same way that states our governments and foreign countries are governments, so they're really coming as tribal dignitaries, you know, they're really representing their own individual tribal government.

MARTIN: So in a way it's a little bit like maybe the diplomat's ball. Kevin Gover, talk a little bit more about that.

GOVER: Yeah, it is that. And I was just thinking we at the museum, as part of our inaugural festivities, we have mounted an exhibition called "They Came As Sovereign Leaders," and it's about the 1908 inauguration. And a number of tribal leaders were invited to ride in the parade for President Roosevelt's inauguration. And interestingly enough...

MARTIN: Theodore Roosevelt.

GOVER: Theodore Roosevelt. And they were there kind of as curiosities, that's why they were invited, that was the way they were presented. But to them they were there to do business with the president, and they came with a set of ideas and requests and insights for and on behalf of their tribes. And so the tribal leader who comes to Washington now for the inaugural is very much thought of and accepted as a representative of a sovereign government.

MARTIN: Will there be meetings? Or is it mainly a networking opportunity?

GOVER: More like networking. We expect a number of members of Congress, a number of administration officials, to come to the ball and engage with the tribal leaders. There is a formal meeting, I believe, on the 22nd, being hosted by the National Congress of American Indians, where they'll start working on the Native agenda for the second Obama administration. So they'll mix business with pleasure.

MARTIN: And speaking of pleasure, what's on the menu? Kevin, is that your bailiwick?

GOVER: Yes. It's a wonderful menu, as always. First of all, we do food really well at the museum. So there'll be the Native dishes you would expect - bison, salmon. There'll be wild rice dishes. We have like one of the best chefs ever at the museum, and so we're - that's almost a given, that you're going to eat well when you come to one of our events.

MARTIN: Well, I understand, though, but again that there are layers to this that many people might not expect, that I understand that there was a consultation with the Intertribal Bison Council to discuss the menu. Are there specific cuts of meat that are particularly important? Is it that - it's just to make sure it's fabulous?

GOVER: It's just to be fabulous.

MARTIN: It's just fabulosity(ph).

(LAUGHTER)

GOVER: You know, the Intertribal Council has the bison. And so of course we were going to work with them to get some.

IMOTICHEY: Natives like to eat well. That's one thing we do, we eat.

MARTIN: I do have to mention that this is not free, that one has to buy a ticket. And do you mind if I mention...

GOVER: Not at bit.

MARTIN: ...that the tickets are kind of pricey. They're $1,000 each. And not to mention sponsorship levels, which can go quite a bit above that. I just - I think people might be interested to know how a price is set for something like this.

GOVER: Well, in addition to providing a place for the Native leadership to gather, we are openly raising money for the museum's education programs. And so the tribes that I have chosen to sponsor, and I should single out both the Chickasaw Nation and Morongo Band of Mission Indians as our lead sponsors for the event, are donating this money in order to enhance our education program. And our education is very straightforwardly about changing all of the things people have learned about Indians in school and in the popular culture, because it's all wrong. And so we need resources. We need a program to confront, challenge and overcome the misunderstanding. And I think people understand both what we're trying to do, that an event actually does cost money, but second, that we're really raising money for the museum. And people support the museum. The tribes have always been incredibly generous with the museum.

I should also add, though, we have other free programming at the museum during the inaugural weekend. We have a three-day multicultural festival. And when I say multicultural, I don't mean just Native cultures. We have African-American performers. We have performers from Hawaii. We have Latin American performers. We have performers of every size, shape and hue. So we're anxious for everyone to come to the museum on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the inauguration.

MARTIN: Jessica, is there anything you wanted to add?

IMOTICHEY: Well, and I also think that the tribes have been so supportive because the museum has always said, you know, this is your museum. You know, so it's tribes investing in their museum. So I think that makes a difference as well.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, we have to ask about what really matters, which is what are you wearing - Kevin?

(LAUGHTER)

GOVER: I'm wearing Joseph A. Bank that evening.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Are you?

GOVER: Yes, I am.

MARTIN: Is it fabulous?

GOVER: Of course it's fabulous.

MARTIN: OK. Any special touches?

GOVER: Not really. I....

MARTIN: You're wearing black tie.

GOVER: I'm wearing black tie. And - but as Jessica said, some of the Native people will show up in spectacular takes on formal attire and it's really fun to see.

MARTIN: OK. Jessica, what about you? What are you wearing? Or who are you wearing?

IMOTICHEY: I'm not sure who I'm wearing, but it's something blue and fabulous as well. I'm off the rack.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for telling us about it, and do be fabulous for us, who won't be there celebrating with you. Jessica Imotichey is a senior policy analyst for the Chickasaw Nation. She's a member of the Host Committee for the Native Nations Inaugural Ball. It will be held at the National Museum of the American Indian. And also joining us was Kevin Gover, who is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

IMOTICHEY: Thank you.

GOVER: You're welcome. Thanks.

MARTIN: Now we know some of you can make it to the Native Nations Inaugural Ball. Somehow my invitation seems to have gotten lost in the mail too. But we wanted to give you a taste of some of what you might hear at Monday's celebration. Attendees will have a chance to loosen up with a sketch comedy group, the 1491s. Their material pokes fun at many of the stereotypes people have about Native American culture and people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M AN INDIAN TOO")

THE 1491S: (Singing) Just like battle axe, hatchet face, eagle nose. Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too. Just like rising moon, falling pants, running nose. Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too.

MARTIN: As we said, that was the 1491s. And what is an inaugural ball without music?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GARDEN OF LOVE")

MARTHA REDBONE: (Singing) I laid me down upon a bank, where love lay sleeping; I heard among the rushes dank. Weeping, weeping.

MARTIN: That was Martha Redbone, who claims both Cherokee and African-American heritage. She hails from the Appalachia region, and her work remixes poems by the English poet William Blake with a soulful sound, as you heard. So Martha Redbone also appearing at the Native Nations Inaugural Ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GARDEN OF LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) To the thistles and thorns of the waste. And they told me how they were beguiled. Driven out and compelled to be chaste. I went to the garden of love, and saw...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.