Dave Baldridge, Executive Director of the International Association for Indigenous Aging

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As the executive director of the International Association for Indigenous Aging, Dave Baldridge works to improve the status of older people worldwide, especially indigenous populations. He is a member of Cherokee Nation.

Tell us about the resolution on Social Security that was recently passed by the National Congress of American Indians.

This project, funded by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) was designed to bring the voices of underserved populations into the Social Security debate. The International Association for Indigenous Aging created a “Leverage Model,” by which we hoped to formalize the grassroots comments from N.M. Indian Pueblo elders, then obtain progressively more influential endorsements. The process culminated with a unanimous endorsement, expressed as a resolution from the nation’s tribal leaders, through the National Congress of American Indians.

The resolution discusses the importance of Social Security to American Indians and Alaska Natives and provides the following policy reccomendations:

  • Congress should not reduce Social Security’s Cost of Living Allowance and should increase the allowance in proportion to realistic rates of inflation.
  • Congress should keep the Social Security eligibility age at 65 years old.
  • Congress should utilize broader sources to income to ensure Social Security’s solvency.
  • Congress should mandate and fund the Social Security Administration to increase intergenerational outreach and educational opportunities.

What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing, especially your work on this resolution?

I’m Cherokee, and a former executive director of the National Indian Council on Aging. As an Indian elder advocate for 20 years, I’m now keenly aware of the importance of Social Security to Indian elders. They comprise one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged populations it serves.

Who do you think this resolution will have the greatest impact on?

Our hope is to bring this American Indian/Alaska Native issue to the attention of socially conscious mainstream voters. Because Indian elders tend to comprise an “invisible” population, many Americans aren’t aware of the difficulties of their lives.

What are the main objectives of the International Association of Indigenous Aging?

I hope that our small non-profit will continue to excel as a voice – through advocacy and research – representing elders from disadvantaged indigenous populations.  Although our focus currently involves AIANs, the experience of Native peoples everywhere continues to suffer the effects of colonization.

What is the most important challenge facing Indian Country today?

As always, it is sovereignty – the right to self – determination. Threats to sovereignty are constant, including a current initiative to give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security jurisdiction over tribal lands on the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. The threats are often incremental. But like the Indian Wars of the 1800s, once a small piece of land or sovereignty is lost, it is gone forever.

How does Indian Country’s relationship with the federal government help or hinder the progress of Native Americans?

American Indians and Alaska Natives are the only ethnic minority that has a formal political relationship with the U.S. government. Indians obtain some services through a concept known as the Federal Trust Responsibility – based on treaties, statute, and case law. It serves as the federal government’s responsibility to provide some basic services in exchange for some 500 million acres of land that was ceded by tribes or taken illegally by force. If Indians lose their status as members of quasi-sovereign nations, their small population numbers will have little effect on the political landscape.

How can people be motivated to take action and get involved?

Trying to generate people’s political motivation is always tough, and we are not grassroots organizers. We do believe that most Americans still believe in the Social Contract and the Golden Rule. We see our work, in part, as reminding them that these core American values are under assault by initiatives such as the Ryan budget.

What was the last book you read? What is the most important thing you learned from it?

One of the best I just re-read, In the Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander. It reminds us that technology often fails us, making our lives busier rather than more meaningful. Many Americans are in danger of losing the sacred aspects of our lives by investing our hopes and our energy in things rather than people.