New Mexico Indian Elders Lead Way in Social Security Debate

 June 20, 2012

Lincoln, NE – The International Association for Indigenous Aging (IA2) – a non-profit educational organization – is pleased to report the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) today adopted a national resolution showing Indian Country’s support for Social Security.

NCAI is comprised of elected leaders representing most of the nation’s 565 federally recognized tribes.

The resolution was developed through a grassroots initiative under a grant award by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) for an IA2 project entitled, “Leverage Model for Indian Elder Advocacy: Giving Elders a Voice on the National Stage.” The “Leverage Model” was designed to inform the national policymaking process by bringing the voices of elders at the grassroots level to the national stage. The approach minimizes the need for individual advocacy – a culturally uncomfortable process for American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) elders, IA2 Executive Director Dave Baldridge said. The elders’ voices, offered in a series of small community meetings last year, became a resolution.

Baldridge explained that IA2, working with partners from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and the New Mexico Office of Indian Elder Affairs, leveraged individual voices by conducting community dialogue sessions with elders at 16 Pueblo meal sites in New Mexico.

The resolution was unanimously endorsed – first by the elders’ small non-profit organization, the New Mexico Indian Council on Aging, and then by their tribal leaders. These elected tribal chairmen act together as voting members of the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC). Representing 19 Pueblos (tribes), their unified voice is a powerful one in national tribal politics. The Governors enthusiastically endorsed their elders’ statement, and presented the resolution in Lincoln, Nebraska, this week to hundreds of other tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) mid-year conference.

As in New Mexico, the resolution’s approval ratio was 100 percent. It did not receive a single negative vote, passing through two committees and the general membership at the Lincoln conference.

This – a national statement from Indian Country and an unsurpassed exercise in grassroots democracy – may be news to many, but probably not to Indian Country, where listening to elders still ranks as a high priority.

American Indian elders, 350 of them, have made a national statement about Social Security. They don’t want to see their benefits or the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) cut. They don’t want to see rich people pay less while they, on the bottom rung of America’s economic ladder, pay more. They don’t trust the political rhetoric they’re hearing about it. They are members of New Mexico’s 19 Indian Pueblos, and they tend to speak quietly. Their opinions sometimes get lost in the daily pressure cooker of Indian Country issues. That all changed today, as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) adopted a national resolution in support of the New Mexico elders’ views. The voices of 350 Indian elders have become the unified voice of 3.5 million Indians and 565 tribes. Message: “Keep your hands off of our Social Security.”

The NCAI resolution urges Congress:

  • To not reduce Social Security’s Cost of Living Allowance and to increase the allowance in proportion to realistic rates of inflation experienced by low-income beneficiaries, such as rising health care costs; and
  • To not raise the age of full Social Security eligibility and consider returning it to 65, thus including more AIAN beneficiaries who have low-income, physically challenging careers; and
  • To protect low-income beneficiaries by utilizing broad sources of income to assure Social Security’s solvency; and
  • To mandate and fund the Social Security Administration to increase intergenerational outreach and educational opportunities to help underserved populations achieve greater economic security over their lifetimes.
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