A History of NAJA, Part 3: A lifetime with NAJA

by AJ Earl

In 2004, NAJA debuted a new way to support the organization: the lifetime membership.

Talahongva said she started discussing the creation of a lifetime membership category with fellow NAJA board member Dan Lewerenz (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska). Lewerenz would succeed Talahongva as NAJA president for a one-year term in 2004. “So, I was floating this idea, looking at numbers and talking to a couple of people, and then we had to take it to the board, because this was a change in policy and we had to get the board to approve a lifetime membership category,” Talahongva said. “And they did.”

Talahongva reached out to longtime members of NAJA, including Trahant and Lori Edmo-Suppah (Shoshone-Bannock) and asked them and three others to join her and acquire a lifetime membership. Expecting only the core five she asked to follow her, Talahongva was surprised to see 16 people lined up behind her. A total of $17,000 was raised in that moment.

Each lifetime member was given a medal to commemorate their momentous contribution.

From this solid base, NAJA’s membership continued to grow, as did its space needs. Since its first office in Scottsdale, Arizona, NAJA headquarters had relocated to Boulder, Colorado, in the late 1980s, to Minneapolis in the early 1990s, and to Vermillion, South Dakota, in the early 2000s.

By the time UNITY ’08 took place in Chicago, the next move was already plotted.

Cristina Azocar (Upper Mattaponi) recalled UNITY ’08 not only as the year she met then-presidential candidate Barack Obama—who spoke at UNITY’s presidential forum broadcast live on CNN—but also as the year NAJA moved its offices to Oklahoma. When recalling which year NAJA made the move, Azocar said, “Oh, it was 2008, because of Obama, because I met Obama!”

Azocar said that was the year she worked with then-executive director Kim Baca to execute NAJA’s move to the University of Oklahoma campus. “That was the milestone,” she said.

Next up: NAJA presidential roll-call


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