On November 16, 2023, USET Sovereignty Protection Fund Executive Director Kitcki Carroll gave a presentation about the Marshall Plan for Tribal Nations during the National Congress of American Indians Convention. Read excerpts of his closing comments or see the full closing comments below.

Full closing comments

I recognize that some may label this as a naïve endeavor with no real prospect for success, or that they may simplify it down to just another effort to pursue additional resources… respectfully, I disagree.  

For too long we have accepted and normalized the disrespectful treatment extended to us; including, for the most part, having bought into rationalizations and excuses that are used when promises and obligations go unfulfilled…which notably has always been the case since the first days of our special, unique, and sacred relationship.

Not only do we comply and follow systemic and institutionalized processes and rules that were built to intentionally limit our ability to flourish and prosper, to fully exert our inherent sovereign muscle, but we too often take comfort in our grasp and understanding of these rules, rather than taking the necessary steps to actively challenge and tear them down.

Advocacy in Indian Country today should be two things… (1) navigating current processes in the short term to gain our greatest advantage under current circumstances… always reminding ourselves that they are in place with the intention to limit and control, and (2) assertively pushing for longer term systemic and institutional change that will best position us to exert our full inherent rights and authorities. 

Any suggestion that the choice is either or… one or the other… is a false and incorrect proposition. We can… and we must… do both at all times.

This Marshall Plan for Indian Country is not only about the obvious, but at a deeper level, it is about principle, righteousness, and justice, including economic justice. It is about course correcting… about re-imagining… a relationship that has evolved over centuries; one that evolved in a manner that has deviated from the original recognition in this nation’s founding documents of our inherent sovereign existence… an existence that predates the formation of the United States… despite how some may choose to otherwise recount history.   

The consistent historical failure of the United States to fulfill its obligations and promises to us is a significant contributing factor to our current circumstances. As a result, we often fight over a dollar when the actual amount due to us is exponentially greater. This has always been the case. There has never been a moment when the United Stated fulfilled its obligations in full. Therefore, as an example, we often get caught up in seeking funds for band-aids, as opposed to funds for the creation of robust health systems within every single one of our Tribal Nations.  

Understanding that our Tribal Nations are still engaged in the nation rebuilding process, understanding that there are too many societal disparities and challenges to mention resulting from federal policies and failures, it is easy to get caught up in fighting for scraps. Not only do these scraps fail to correct the underlying deficiencies, but the process too often puts us at odds with one another as relatives. This should be an unfamiliar tactic to no one as it has been used throughout history, but we need to better recognize and understand how the tactic is creating division amongst us.

“As Native people, we are called to not only act on behalf of our people here today, but for those who came before us and those who will come after us – the future of our nations.” President Kirk Francis, USET/USET SPF Senate Indian Affairs Testimony

To borrow from the inspirational words and overall enlightened message of Dr. King:

“There comes a time… when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression…there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

That time for us is now. Now is our time. It is our time to courageously and confidently come out of relegated places of invisibility. To be seen and understood on our terms. It is our time to be heard. To be heard using our words… rooted in our indigenous truth and worldview…without apology.

We are on the precipice of an effort that will lead to systemic and generational change and that change relies on us collectively understanding our power, taking back control of our power, and leaning into our power. We must draw upon our collective wisdom that is rooted in both our successes and challenges; including our shared multi-generational trauma experience that our nations, communities, families, and children continue to recover and heal from today.

Now is our time. Time to boldly and proactively re-imagine this relationship in a manner that demands proper respect and honor of our sovereign-to-sovereign relationship… that reshapes it into proper reflection of true diplomacy.

Our ancestors, despite the difficult and horrific days and years that were ahead of them, at a time when our erasure and extinction as a people was the ultimate goal… just like Dr. King… they too made it to the metaphorical and spiritual mountaintop, fueled and inspired by optimism… by hope.

However, the view from the soaring heights of their vantage was not of a biblical promised land, rather, theirs was about the rightful and just restoration and return of our homelands. Lands that hold the bones and spirits of our ancestors. Lands that have sustained us since time immemorial. Lands of our creation stories. Lands for which we have always been the rightful stewards; stewards who cared for them with highest degree of regard and reverence. THESE ARE OUR LANDS.

They saw on the horizon a view of not only our survival and perseverance, but a prosperous future for us as a people; a prosperous future where our indigenous principles and values still guide and center us. Despite the unthinkable challenges of their time, I am confident that they held onto hope, that they had a deep understanding and appreciation that our arrival into that prosperous existence would come well after they themselves had passed on to the spirit world, but a belief that we… as a people… would get there.

Getting there is a sacred responsibility that each one of us in Indian Country must own and embrace. However, I can promise you one thing… we will never honor their sacrifices, or achieve their dream and vision, if we continue to allow ourselves to be complacent and complicit with a system and structure that routinely and consistently fails us, that fails to honor its responsibilities and obligations to us, if we concede that this is expectation is too great or too heavy of a lift, or if we believe that the pursuit is a naïve and unrealistic endeavor.

Rather, together, we must collectively stand up for righteousness and justice…always choosing hope over fear… always choosing unity over division… always remembering who our common interest and concern should be. In doing so, the rising waters will lift all our canoes… because in the end… history… through the eyes of our Creator… will be the final judge of our deeds.

When it comes to the United States… we must ask the basic question about what kind of nation the United States is… or will choose to be. Despite the challenges and strains of our relationship, we all know that our people have sacrificed and proudly served this nation… served this nation in an effort to help it move closer to the ideals and principles reflected in its founding documents. It is imperative that we have a shared goal of an ideal nation that honors its promises to its first people… an understanding that the greatness and exceptionalism of this country is a direct reflection of its treatment of its first peoples. 

Finally, progress can often be exceptionally slow, especially in Indian Country. There is a distinct possibility that we will not achieve the change and progress we desire within our lifetime, but every effort worth pursuing has always started with the courage and intent to take the initial step. I want to acknowledge and express gratitude to all those who played a role in leading us to where we are today. I now humbly ask that we all commit to taking the first step into this next phase of our journey together…drawing upon our collective strength and wisdom as indigenous people. Relatives… it is true that we are up against centuries of policies of termination and assimilation… the real impacts and effects of colonization…. but now is our time… the time has arrived for us to break free of the chains that hold our minds and our bodies hostage… to pursue a 21st century indigenous inherent sovereignty rights movement that will lead us back to our rightful place within our own homelands… just as our ancestors intended and visioned… just like the Creator intended… and in doing so… justice and righteousness will no longer elude us… NOW IS OUR TIME.