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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, September 20, 2007

Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission holds town hall meeting at IU Bloomington


Brian Buchanan

Brian Buchanan, chair of the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON -- Not many Hoosiers, including those who are American Indians, know about the 2-year-old Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission (INAIAC), which advises the state government on American Indian issues. To help spread the word and find out about the needs of area American Indians, the commission will hold its first town hall meeting in Monroe County, hosted by the Indiana University First Nations Educational and Cultural Center (FNECC).

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, in room 007 of Morrison Hall, 1165 E. Third St.

"The meeting will begin with an introduction and a brief explanation of the history of the commission and its accomplishments. There will be a brief synopsis of current and future projects," said Brian Buchanan, chair of the commission and principal chief of the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana. "When the meeting adjourns, we hope to gain a better perspective of Native American issues for the Bloomington region with hopes of helping in anyway we can."

FNECC members say the commission's work is crucial to local American Indians.

"What is taught about American Indians in schools, what happens when our ancestors' remains are found, whether state recognition is available, what financial aid is available to Indian students -- these are all things the Commission will impact in Indiana," said John Johnson, a member of the FNECC steering committee and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and IU associate professor emeritus of folklore. "At the town hall meeting, the public can ask questions about issues that will concern them. They can tell the commission what they need. The commission is our voice."

The FNECC and INAIC hope that students and American Indian community members will turn out to ask questions and explain their needs to the commission.

"This Town Hall is for the Native community to come out and express what they feel needs to be done. As native people, the commission is our voice to report to the governor and the legislature. We need to understand what the commission does and make sure they hear us," said Dennis Lamenti, member of the FNECC steering committee, Navajo Nation and Zuni Tribe and an IU graduate student.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the commission to listen and learn about native American needs and concerns," agreed Chief Buchanan.

"These issues don't only affect Native Americans," said Lillian Casillas, director of La Casa and a member of the FNECC steering committee. "Non-Native Americans have an interest in fair treatment of the first peoples of the state. This is also an opportunity to learn what Native Americans are doing around the state."

One important outcome of the town hall meeting organizers are hoping for is to better educate the IU community on enhancing American Indian student recruitment and retention.

"We want IUB to lead the way in American Indian student recruitment and services," said Rebecca Riall, a member of the FNECC steering committee and the Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama and an IU graduate and law student. "By creating partnerships with the people who will help set state policy, IUB can take a leadership role. We hope administrators will show support for American Indians by attending this meeting and making those connections."

The IU First Nations Educational and Cultural Center was founded in 2006. It advocates for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students at IUB and provides cultural events throughout the year.