November 18, 2011

Internet Gaming’s Impact on Tribes to be Closely Studied

After hearing the concerns of tribal leaders and Indian gaming experts, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs promised to take a long, hard look at all aspects of Internet gaming before considering legislation to legalize Internet gaming.

Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for your testimony. The testimony makes it clear that this is a very complex issue and I feel we’ve just scratched the surface of these issues,” Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka (D-Hawaii) told witnesses who testified November 17 at SCIA’s “Oversight Hearing on the Future of Internet Gaming: What’s at Stake for Tribes?”

Not a single tribal expert involved in Indian gaming provided unqualified support for legalizing Internet gaming. Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, stressed the “bedrock principle” shared by all tribal leaders: the protection of tribal sovereignty and existing tribal government rights. “In addition to these principles, I would venture to say that there is at least one other area in which there would be universal agreement among tribes: Any federal legislation authorizing Internet Gaming must ensure that Indian country can protect and preserve the gains tribal nations have made under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) while at the same time allowing us the opportunity to compete on a fair and level playing field with other gaming interests in any legalized Internet Gaming market” Bozsum said.

Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, said IGRA has allowed some of Indian country to develop a $26.5 billion gaming industry that not only provide jobs and infrastructure within reservations, but also spill out beyond the reservation. Of the $60 billion generated in the U.S. by both commercial and Indian gaming, Indian gaming dollars make up more than 40 percent, Gobin said. “There is a lot at stake for tribes and local economies where Indian gaming enterprises are located and have been able to thrive and we strongly oppose any proposals to legalize Internet gaming that threaten these economies,” Gobin said.

Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of the Nation Indian Gaming Association, outlined a series of fundamental principles tribal leaders agreed to after several meetings over the past two years in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians. The principles include the acknowledgment that sovereign Indian tribes have the right to operates, license, tax and regulate Internet gaming; that Internet gaming authorized by tribes must be available to customers wherever Internet gaming is allowed; tribal Internet gaming revenues must not be taxed; existing tribal-state compacts must be respected; Internet gaming legislation must not open IGRA to amendments; and it must provide positive benefits to Indian country.

Additional hearings will be held on the subject, Akaka said. “I know there are many other tribes and affected stakeholders that we need to hear from as well. That’s why I intend to convene additional meetings about this issue so my colleagues and I can make sure we’re hearing from all interested parties representing tribal issues in this important matter.”

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November 23, 2011

A Seat at the Internet Gaming Table

Indian gaming experts say there’s no need to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in order to give the National Indian Gaming Commission a regulatory role in any Internet gaming enterprises established by tribal governments.

The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) established the commission as the regulator of Indian gaming along with tribal governments. Since then there have been various threats to reopen IGRA for amendments – threats that tribal leaders have vigorously opposed for fear that opening the gaming statute would provide an opportunity for anti-gaming legislators to introduce amendments to limit Indian tribal governments’ ability to conduct gaming. But with the prospect of Internet gaming on the horizon, tribal leaders are pushing for a regulatory role for the commission and some leaders and legislators have questioned whether it would be necessary to open amend IGRA in order to authorize the commission as the oversight agency.

Spokesmen for the commission and for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) say authorizing the commission to provide oversight to Indian gaming in cyberspace could be written into Internet gaming legislation. “I believe that responsibility is there with the commission. I don’t see why we would have to open up IGRA in order to do that.” NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. says. “What we’re saying is that the commission has the experience and knowledge about Indian gaming and they’re the only ones who really have that kind of experience, and we think that would be more appropriate than having an outside agency oversee it.”

The issue of opening IGRA was raised in front of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at an “Oversight Hearing on the Future of Internet Gaming: What’s at Stake for Tribes?” November 17 when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) questioned Larry Roberts, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and general consul for the National Indian Gaming Commission. “If Internet gaming were made fully legal tomorrow and your commission would have a role in regulating tribal Internet gaming, do you think the IGRA would have to be rewritten in any way in order for the commission to take on that role?” Franken asked.

Roberts said it was a hard question to answer “in the abstract, because there’s no bill out there that provides roles and responsibilities for us so it’s hard to lay out whether it would actually have to be part of IGRA or not. It really depends on how Congress defines our role.”

Franken probed further. “But, I mean, if Congress were to say, ‘Okay, the Indian side of this is going to be regulated by IGRA,’ it would have to be in the legislation, obviously, right?” Franken said, referring to the legislation to legalize Internet gaming.

“Yes,” Roberts said, “and as with any legislation we would implement our statutory duties as Congress directs us to.”

Protecting IGRA from amendments is among a set of principles tribal leaders developed over the past two years, facilitated by NIGA. The principles establish ground rules for an Internet gaming bill that would meet tribal government interests and provide an even playing field between tribal and commercial gaming. They were developed in response to current Internet gaming proposals that Indian country leaders say give unfair advantages to commercial gaming in states such as Nevada and Arizona. The principles provide for protection for tribal sovereignty; give tribes the right to operate, regulate, tax and license Internet gaming; allow tribes to reach customers off the reservation; exclude tribes from taxes; protect existing tribal-state compacts, and provide economic benefits for Indian country.

The push to legalize Internet gaming is coming from the commercial side of the industry, primarily from the Poker Players Alliance, the American Gaming Association, and the gaming states of Nevada and New Jersey. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) tried to attach Internet gaming language to an Omnibus bill late last year, and Congressmen Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wa.) have proposed H.R. 2366 and H.R. 2230, respectively. The existing proposals name the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Treasury as regulators of commercial Internet gaming.

Jason Giles, NIGA’s executive director and former general consul, argues that legislation to legalize Internet gaming could simply name the commission as the regulator of Indian Internet gaming. “You don’t need to go back into the legislation that created the Commerce and Treasury departments and amend those in order to give them a new role or responsibility,” he says.

While some tribes are eager for Internet gaming to get off the ground and others oppose all Internet gaming, tribal leaders agree—and insist—that they should have a major role in shaping any legislative proposals. Akaka strongly supports the tribal leaders’ involvement in the process. He noted that Indian gaming comprises approximately 43 percent of the entire $61 billion-plus gaming industry in the U.S. “That is why it is critical that the committee explore this issue to find out what it would mean for tribes and their traditional Indian gaming facilities,” Akaka says. “We must make sure that the unique circumstances surrounding tribal sovereignty are maintained in any legislation and we must also enable tribes to fully participate so tribes are on equal footing with their counterparts in the commercial gaming industry should any legislation be considered.”

Several legislators also support the nation’s efforts to be at the table and to protect tribal sovereignty. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) wrote to Reid in October urging that tribes be treated fairly in any legislation the Senate majority leader might consider. “Tribes are sovereign governments and should be treated as such,” Inouye wrote. “They should have the authority to regulate, tax and operate gaming. . .  When Congress enacted IGRA in 1988, we intended to authorize Indian tribes engaged in gaming to use new technologies as they developed. Accordingly, Internet gaming has become a new market and tribes should have equal access to this market.”

John Hoeven (D- N.D.) wrote to Reid on November 14 in support of Inouye’s letter. He also argued for fair treatment of the tribes. “Historically, our country has recognized the importance of allowing tribal leaders to regulate this industry in a way that will meet the goals of promoting tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and a strong tribal government as outlined in IGRA. Congress should continue to respect tribal nations and their economies by treating them fairly during any Internet gaming discussions,” Hoeven wrote.

In October, Congressman Tom Cole (D-Okla.) wrote to the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—the “Super Committee” that ended it’s work November 21 without reaching consensus on deficit reductions—urging the committee not to include Internet gaming provisions in the deficit reduction package. “While I do not support Internet gaming, if an Internet gaming regime is established, anything short of a comprehensive system developed through the regular committee process threatens the constitutionally recognized sovereignty of Indian tribes,” Cole wrote.

The current bills are clearly inadequate, Stevens says. “As they rolled this out they did it without respect for several aspects that are standard for tribal governments. We have to be treated as tribal governments. They have to understand and respect that we have a responsibility to our communities as we move forward because we’re not individuals, we’re not private investors. Our tribal governments’ economic development needs are in order to service our communities.”

Akaka has promised to analyze all potential impacts of Internet gaming on tribal nations. “I know there are many other tribes and affected stakeholders that we need to hear from as well. That’s why I intend to convene additional meetings about this issue so my colleagues and I can make sure we’re hearing from all interested parties representing tribal issues in this important matter,” he says. No further hearings have been scheduled.

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November 24, 2011

Ernie Stevens Jr. Reflects on Native American Heritage Day

The following is a message from the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association on Native American Heritage Day.

This week America takes time off to celebrate the annual Thanksgiving holiday. Historically, Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration signifying the sharing and brotherhood extended by Native Americans to the first English settlers in Massachusetts. On behalf of the National Indian Gaming Association Executive Board and our 184 member tribes, I want to send to you and your tribal community our best wishes this holiday week. I also want to recognize the special Indian events surrounding this Thanksgiving holiday.

On November 1, President Obama issued a proclamation celebrating Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day on November 25. In honor of Native American Heritage Day, NIGA Board Member Andy Ebona and a group of Tlingit dancers from Alaska will perform this Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The President’s message on Native American Heritage Day is an important reminder to all Americans that we should take a moment to reflect upon the Native American contributions to the formation of the United States. The Native American Heritage Day Public Law is the result of five years of hard work by the National Indian Gaming Association working alongside our sister organizations National Congress of American Indian (NCAI), National Indian Education Association (NIEA), and numerous tribal regional organizations. Indian country is indebted to Congressman Joe Baca (D-CA 43rd) and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) for their Congressional leadership in enacting this into law.

The mainstream story of America’s Thanksgiving Holiday typically includes only a few paragraphs on the story of the Native American contribution during this national holiday. Before the invasion of European settlers, Native Americans tribes cultivated over 75 percent of the many food varieties grown in the world today, including nearly all of the staples that make-up our Thanksgiving meal, from sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and corn, to of course the wild turkey indigenous to North America. The early Massachusetts colonists, who arrived here with their own dreams and ambitions, would not have survived if the Narragansett and Wampanoag Tribes had not embraced them and welcomed them to their shores. Those tribes shared their knowledge with the colonists on how to cultivate crops, hunt, and trade for essential items with the other tribes in that region.

Since the first Thanksgiving the gradual destruction of Tribal Nations is well documented and is something we should never forget. Tribal Nations have experienced the loss of their land base and centuries of economic hardship. Today, Tribal Nations are still working to overcome these obstacles, but Indian Country has never stopped sharing with this Country its resources, culture, and ingenuity. We can’t change history, but we can continue to tell the story of the first Americans and their central role in a uniquely American holiday. For me, educating my children and other young Indian people about the past is as much of a responsibility as anything we do professionally.

This week, as each of you observe the Thanksgiving Holiday, take a moment and reflect upon the sharing exhibited by our ancestors during that first Thanksgiving feast. Take a moment to think about how Native Americans truly influenced this country, and how today Native Americans still stand proud and ready to share in the sacrifice to defend this Country. Finally, take a brief moment to reflect on Friday, November 25, “Native American Heritage Day,” the sharing and giving spirit that American Indians carry forward to this day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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December 29, 2011

2011 Retrospective: April

The White Wash
Walter Plecker, Virginia’s registrar in the 1920s, eradicated records of Indian births and marriages to support his directive that all Indians be categorized as blacks. Because of his racist policies, six Virginia tribes are having a hard time getting federal recognition because much of their documentation was destroyed.

The Revolution Will Be Indigenous
The Bolivian government is aggressively implementing its radical program for agrarian reform and giving farmland back to the poor. The government says it has distributed 400,000 acres this year alone and plans to give away much more in the next few years.

Native Government Contracting Program
On April 7, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard a parade of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal and business leaders urging Congress to protect Native participation in the Small Business Administration section 8(a) government contracting program. Lance Morgan, chairman of the Native American Contractors Association (NACA) and president and chief executive of Ho-Chunk, Inc., the economic development arm of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Nebraska, told Congress that tribes are just now starting to benefit from the federal contracting marketplace “after being left out, locked out, and elbowed out for decades.”

LO RES 04 APRIL courtesy Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound FEA PHOTO CAPE WIND ESP Electrical Service Platform will be ten stories tall and house 40 000 gallons of transformer oil esp copy 270x203 2011 Retrospective: April

The proposed wind-energy project in Nantucket Sound has angered some.

Some Serious Blowback
A massive offshore wind-energy project in Nantucket Sound has outraged local tribes and many environmental groups, who say they weren’t properly consulted on the endeavor, and are now trying to blow the project out of the water with a slew of appeals and lawsuits.

Bankrupt Catholic Order Must Pay
Between the 1940s and the 1990s, children at boarding schools ranging from remote Alaskan villages to those on northwestern tribal lands faced sexual, physical or psychological abuse from Jesuit missionaries. On March 25, the approximately 524 victims in the five-state area of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, most of them American Indians and Alaska Natives, received some justice in the form of $166.1 million—the third-largest settlement in the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse saga and the largest ever by a single Catholic religious order. Insurance companies will pay $118 million of the settlement, with the Jesuits paying $48.1 million. The Jesuit order ran schools in villages and on reservations throughout the five-state area.

Betting on His Record
A hot and smoky election campaign battle for chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) turned out to have very little fire after all. After weeks of speculation, tension, rumors and uncertainty, Ernie Stevens Jr., NIGA’s incumbent chairman, won the election over challenger Ivan Mikal by a vote of 121-14. Stevens, who has led NIGA for 10 years, now begins his sixth term as chair of and spokesman for the country’s biggest Indian gaming organization. He is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

Goodbye, Redskins!
When students at Wiscasset High School (WHS) in Maine begin a new school year, “Redskins” won’t be their nickname anymore. They and seven other schools in the area have voted to replace the Redskins mascot at WHS with “Wolverines.” The Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission asked the school board to stop using the Redskins mascot last fall because it’s racist and offends Indian people, particularly Maine’s Wabanaki nations of Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmacs. But supporters of the racist image and name have said they will continue the battle.

NAJA Cut From Wikipedia
In January Wikipedia administrators deleted the entry for the Native American Journalists Association—for the second time. Wikipedia lists 76 organizations under the category, “American journalism organizations.” It includes boxing, soccer and baseball writers associations. It includes the associations of Asian American journalists, black journalists, Hispanic journalists, Korean American journalists, lesbian and gay journalists, and UNITY: Journalists of Color, of which NAJA is a member. But unlike their journalism cohorts, they’re non-existent to Wikipedia.

Good P.R.
Close to 20,000 people in Puerto Rico identified themselves as “American Indian” in the 2010 U.S. Census report, a 49 percent increase in the number of island Puerto Ricans to do so. In 2000, the number was 13,336. Some see this reporting as yet another reflection of a growing awareness of the indigenous roots, or Taíno aspect, of Puerto Rican identity—more and more people are joining Taíno organizations and attending Taíno-related celebrations. Others see it as a signal that Puerto Ricans are asserting their own identity, separate from the influences of first the Spanish and then U.S. colonizers.

Harper’s Watergate
Canada is facing its 41st federal election after a vote of no-confidence for Prime Minister Stephen Harper prompted the dissolution of Parliament. This traces back to a scandal over Harper’s aide Bruce Carson, who allegedly lobbied to get First Nation contracts for a water-filtration company that employs his fiancée, a 22-year-old former escort, who stood to gain millions from a deal.

Free at Last
Five First Nations on western Vancouver Island rejoiced as April 1 dawned and they celebrated the end of their thrall to the Indian Act. The nations now share 24,550 hectares of treaty settlement lands and a $73.1 million capital transfer, and negotiated deals that could bring in $1.8 million a year from commercial forestry operations.

A Sign of Hope
Subtle and not-so-subtle racism against Indians has always been a problem in Bemidji, Minnesota. But then Michael Meuers came up with a modest proposal. He asked business owners to put the Ojibwe words for “women” and “men” on their restroom doors. That small step led to a happy bridging of two cultures.

—Click here if you missed our January 2011 retrospective.

—Click here if you missed our February 2011 retrospective.

—Click here if you missed our March 2011 retrospective.

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December 31, 2011

2011: Leaders Place New Emphasis on Indian Perspective

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), and the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) all shared the same overlapping concerns in 2011 – the priory of seeking land restoration through a “clean Carcieri fix,” the four “e’s” – economic development, education, energy, and the environment – taxation issues, Internet gaming, and the perennial concern with protecting sovereignty. But a different tone entered the discourse in 2011 as leaders began to place a new emphasis on seeing and addressing issues and relationships from an Indian perspective – a perspective detailed in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On January 27, NCAI President Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw Nation, delivered the State of the Indian Nations address in which he touched on the growing assertion of Indian rights – a theme that was restated in different contexts by both NIGA and USET leadership. “I’m pleased to report that the state of Indian nations is strong and driven by a new momentum. We stand at the beginning of a new era for Indian country and for tribal relations with the United States,” Keel said. “Previous eras were defined by what the federal government chose to do – the Indian removal period when tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands to reservations, the reorganization and termination eras, the allotment era, even the more recent promise of the self determination era. But this new era is defined by what we as Indian nations choose to do for ourselves.” Keel went on to suggest names for the new era: the Era of Recognition, the Era of Responsibilities or of Promises Kept. “Whatever it is called, it brings us closer than ever to the true Constitutional relationship between the United States and Indian nations,” he said.

Less than a week later, USET President Brian Patterson, Oneida Indian Nation, presented his vision to Indian Country Today Media Network of what the new relationship should be. The goal is to redefine and reshape the trust relationship between the U.S. and Indian nations based on the nations’ inherent sovereignty and equality so that the relationship works—as it should—for Indian people, Patterson said. The first step is to redefine the trust relationship from an Indian perspective, he said. “This current game is not our game,” Patterson said of the politic system that dominates Indian country. “We’re spending money and resources hand over fist on lawyers and lawsuits and what not, but it’s not our game and we’re losing it.”

Patterson talked about an important moment in his life when he realized the importance of language and the fact that the Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. are shaped and dominated by a language that’s not their own. “I realized I had been living my entire life under the context of terminology—domestic dependent nations—that’s used throughout this country, but it’s not our terminology or our definition,” Patterson said. The term “domestic dependent nations” not only defines the trust relationship between the federal government and the 565 federally acknowledged Indian nations on Turtle Island, it also demarcates the boundaries of Indian sovereignty and self determination, and prevents the nations from realizing their full potential, Patterson said.“This is no time to be timid in Indian country,” he said. “There’s a need to engage in a discussion about identifying areas of the failed trust responsibility, about building a platform that will allow Indian country to define self-determination and the trust relationship as we see best, as we see the value of it—and then advance it.” The work has already begun in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians, Patterson said. Will USET ultimately challenge Congress’ assumed plenary power over Indians? “Absolutely,” Patterson said.

In discussions over the hot button issue of proposals to legalize and control Internet gaming, NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, spoke about the federal government’s obligation to protect the economic benefits and revenues that Indian gaming provides tribal governments to deliver services to their citizens. NIGA developed a series of guiding principles for federal Internet gaming legislation that would, among other things, provide positive economic benefits for Indian country. “This principle requires the United States to acknowledge its Constitutional, treaty and trust obligations to Indian tribes as well as the significant stake that tribal governments have in the existing gaming industry. To meet this principle, federal legislation legalizing Internet gaming must set-aside and dedicate funding to meet the significant unmet needs of tribal communities. . . .[T}ribal governments ceded and had taken hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands to help build this Nation. In return, the U.S. promised to provide for the education, health, safety and welfare of Indian people. These solemn promises have not been kept,” Stevens reminded the government at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing November 17.

All three organizations continued efforts to get Congress to pass a “clean Carcieri fix” that would assert the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally acknowledged Indian nations, “fixing” the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. Their efforts were unsuccessful as the third anniversary of the ruling approaches on February 24.

There were a few successes this year, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk’s announcement in November of what they called a “sweeping reform of federal surface leasing regulations for American Indian lands that will streamline the approval process for home ownership, expedite economic development and spur renewable energy development in Indian country” – a move that tribal organizations and nations had requested for decades. “The lease regulation reform was a step in the right direction,” said NCAI spokesman Thom Wallace. “It’s not seen as a final produce and work on energy legislation is something we continue to this day.”

In other issues, USET took the lead on developing an Intertribal Tax Initiative involving national and regional organizations working together “to defend and promote tribal sovereignty, nation-building and economic development.” The project’s short term and long term goals and proposed actions for 2012 are described here. And in August, NCAI took a principled stand against the proposed Keystone Pipeline project, issuing a resolution that said, in part that the pipeline “would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed.”

In October, dozens of tribal leaders gathered in Washington during Tribal Unity Impact Week – an event co-hosted by NCAI, USET and almost a dozen other organizations — to present a united front to Congress on an array of issues impacting Indian country. Part of the discussion involved exploring exactly what it means to be united. Keel said that, “Together we can make a difference; individually we will continue to struggle.” But Hiawatha Brown, a Narragansett Indian Tribe councilman, lamented that other tribes failed to support the Narragansett’s battle involving Carcieri until it was too late. “We had been fighting for years, but it is only in the last two that you all have come to support us,” he said. “Collectively, many of our tribal leaders have become complacent…. There are only about 150 people in this room.  That’s pathetic!” he said, noting that there are more than 500 tribes throughout the country. With that, he called for prayer.

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April 3, 2012

Veterans Honor Ernie Stevens Sr. and his Son

SAN DIEGO—The National Indian Gaming Associations Indian Gaming Trade Show and Convention kicked off during the evening of April 1 with the Chairman’s Reception, which this year honored veterans in a big way: the event took place aboard the USS Midway, a massive World War II-era aircraft carrier docked at the Navy Pier in San Diego Bay.

Dozens, perhaps, hundreds of veterans attended the event this year and all of them were presented with boutonniere’s as they made their way to the dinner tables spread out in front of the stage where the entertainment and speeches took place.

Plaque presentation e1333479541797 270x165 Veterans Honor Ernie Stevens Sr. and his Son

Dan Tabor, retired Navy Seal (left) and Frank Ramirez, retired U.S. Army Sergeant and national director for intergovernmental affairs for the National American Indian Veterans, hold up the plaque they presented to Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. The event took place during the Chairman's Reception on the first night of the National Indian Gaming Association's annual convention and trade show. This year the reception honored veterans and took place on the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier at Navy Pier, San Diego. (Gale Courey Toensing)

“This is really about honoring veterans tonight,” said Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. But in a turn-around honoring, three veterans and directors of the National American Indian Veterans honored him and his father, Ernie Stevens Sr. who was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.

Don Loudner, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, executive director of the NAIV, a nonprofit organization that advocates in Washington and nationally on behalf of all Native veterans, began the ceremony with a short speech. “All you warriors, all you veterans, stand up!” Loudner said. “Thank you for your service and welcome home. Thank you for providing us the freedom that we’re living today. As the national commander of National American Indian Veterans, it’s an honor for me to serve as your commander in Washington when you asked me to come in and provide input on the issues, concerns and needs of you people.” Turning to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was present, Loudner continued, “And believe me, Senator Campbell could tell you I don’t take the backseat to anybody because we earned those benefits, we earned them and we want to be served just like anybody else. I don’t need to tell you that American Indians served at the highest percentage of all ethnic groups in the U.S. Go way back as far as you want, we served. This is our country and that’s why we served.”

The attendees cheered and applauded.

Loudner, a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer, introduced his colleagues from the NAIV – James Overman, a retired U.S. Air Force Major and national director of marketing for NAIV, and Frank Ramirez, a retired U.S. Army Sergeant and NAIV’s national director of intergovernmental affairs. The three NAIV colleagues presented Stevens Jr. with an award plaque that included his photograph, a feather, a depiction of the Four Directions, and three acknowledgments that Overman read. The first honored Stevens Sr., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1950-1954 as Staff Sergeant. He received the Korean Unit citation and the Korean Service medal with three battle stars. The second honored Stevens Jr., “a warrior leader for all Native Americans,” Overman said. The third listed the names of Loudner, Ramirez and Overman and their ranks in the military.

Loudner told Stevens that the plaque was for “your father and yourself for what you do and you’ve done for American Indian veterans. This is yours – hang it and be proud of it.”

USS Midway 270x202 Veterans Honor Ernie Stevens Sr. and his Son

This year the Chairman's Reception, which takes place on the first night of the National Indian Gaming Association's Indian Gaming Trade Show and Convention, took place on an World War II aircraft carrier called the USS Midway and honored veterans. (Gale Courey Toensing)

Stevens teared up. “My father was one of the greatest veterans who ever walked the earth. I’ll accept this on behalf of my family and my wife’s family. My wife’s father has a purple heart and she takes care of it,” Stevens said. He said he had never heard about the citations and medals his father had received. My father never talked much about the war. All he wanted to do was serve his country.”

Stevens closed with a story about his grandmother, a 101-year-old woman who continues to live on her own. “She was raised by a Civil War veteran,” Stevens said. Overman stepped in to say that he knows Stevens’ grandmother “and she insists on me calling her ‘Mrs. Hinton.’ And why that’s precious to me – I called my mother from the time I was six years old until she passed ‘Mrs. Overman,’” he said.

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April 9, 2012

Quapaw Tribe Honored with Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award

The Wendell A. Chino Humanitarian Award – National Indian Gaming Association’s most prestigious honor – is usually given to a tribal leader whose actions have improved the lives of American Indian peoples. For the first time in the 14-year life of the award, it has been presented to an entire tribe whose altruistic and humanitarian actions helped tornado victims and their devastated community last year.

The award was presented to the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma in honor of their heroic efforts to help the community of Joplin, Missouri, which was destroyed by a tornado in May 2011. The award ceremony took place at the Wendell Chino Banquet during NIGA’s annual Indian Gaming Trade Show and Convention in San Diego the first week of April. Prior to the presentation, attendees viewed a short video of the Quapaw Tribe’s actions during the storm. The tribe’s Fire and Emergency Service Team, based at its Downstream Resort Casino and in Quapaw, Oklahoma, was among the first responders to arrive at the scene of devastation just minutes after the storm. The casino was turned into a temporary storm shelter, providing hotel rooms for storm survivors, relief workers and members of the American Red Cross for weeks. Casino restaurants provided storm victims and relief workers alike with thousands of hot meals and sandwiches delivered to the Joplin Emergency Command Center and to workers in the disaster zone. Tribal members donated clothing, household items and financial assistance to victims and sponsored a number of fundraisers.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. called the Quapaw Tribe a “nation of First Responders (who) demonstrated their innate ability to mobilize and provide a safe recourse for Joplin.” He said the Wendell A. Chino Humanitarian Award is one of the highest awards in Indian country and that the Quapaw Tribe has earned it. “That’s what this is all about – people helping people, Indian and non-Indian alike,” Stevens said.

But the joyfulness of the occasion was tinged with sadness at the recent loss of a vital young Quapaw citizen to whom Stevens dedicated the award: “We dedicate this historic recognition to Seneca Mathews,” he said. Seneca Mathews, 27, a Downstream Resort Casino employee, who spent weeks helping people at the disaster site last summer, died in a car accident in February. He was the son of Downstream co-founder J.R. Mathews.

“My son Seneca,” J.R. Mathews said, “when the tornado happened, from the first day he was there every day, helping people. He was killed nine weeks ago but if he was here today he’d be so happy because of this award, because he always wanted to make a difference and that’s what he’d say.”

Overwhelmed with emotion, J.R. Mathews addressed the audience directly and urged them to embrace their lives fully and actively. “Don’t stand idly by, don’t sit back, stand up, do something! Make this a purposeful day today. Go out and help somebody. Help yourself. Hold your family tight! Know that life is precious. We never know when it’s going to be taken. But make today count and make tomorrow a better day!” Seneca Mathews’ brother Thomas, the Quapaw vice chairman and his grandma Flossie Mathews both wiped away tears and there were few dry eyes among the audience members. Flossie Mathews took the microphone to say, “We love our people, not just Quapaw people, but we love all of our people and we want to all strive to go forward and do the best for our people. I mean all of us. We have come such a long way in such a short time.”

Quapaw Chairman John Berrey, echoing Flossie’s words, said thanks were due to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that provided the tribe through its Downstream Resort Casino with the resources to help the tornado victims. “We think that Downstream and the Quapaw were why they created the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, because we came from nothing and today we have something,” Berrey said. “We try to always respect people, we always try to love people and we always try to give to everyone that’s in need and we love that about being an Indian business. But we think everybody in this room would do the same thing.” But the tribe doesn’t define itself by what it did during the tornado or what it does on any particular day, Berrey said. “We define ourselves as proud Native Americans. We want to make our grandparents proud, our parents proud, and we want to leave something for our children,” he said.

Stevens asked Mark Chino, the son of Wendell Chino, to present the award to Berrey on behalf of the tribe. The late Wendell Chino is an iconic, nationally recognized Mescalero Apache leader who was an unflagging advocate for Indian sovereignty and self-determination and one of the strongest voices for American Indian rights during the 1960s until his death in 1988 at the age of 74. He set the stage for the Cabazon decision more than 10 years before that case opened the doors to Indian gaming by establishing one of the earliest Indian casinos in 1975 and asserting that the state of New Mexico could not outlaw gaming on sovereign tribal land.

Born in 1924—the year that Congress gave American citizenship to all indigenous peoples on Turtle Island—Chino was a leader from the age of 28 when he was elected chairman of the Mescalero Apache’s tribal governing committee. He was reelected every two years until 1965 when he was elected the first president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. He served in that capacity for 16 consecutive terms.

Over the course of his leadership Chino led his tribe on a rags-to-riches journey not only by establishing a casino, but also by shifting control of the tribe’s resources from outside forces to the tribe. When Bureau of Indian Affairs-controlled contracts for everything from mining to timber to grazing contracts on the Mescalero reservation came up for renewal in the mid-1960s, Chino allowed them to lapse and then created companies to develop the resources that were under the tribe’s control. Under his guidance and philosophy of what he called “red capitalism,” the Mescalero Apache Nation built a ski resort, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a casino, a timber mill and a metal fabrication plant, as well as Indian schools, a hospital and a health centre. During a 1977 court case involving control of Mescalero natural resources, Chino stated, “The white man has raped this land and now he wastes six million acres of Indian land use in this state.”

Altogether Chino led his nation for more than 43 years. “He took stances that affected Indians not only on his reservation, but all over the country,” said Roy Bernal, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council and a member of the Taos Pueblo nation in Chino’s obituary in the The New York Times. “In the scheme of the 20th century, it has been said that Wendell Chino was a Martin Luther King or a Malcolm X of Indian Country. He was truly a modern warrior.”

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comSherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary Makes ALA’s Most-Challenged List Again - ICTMN.com.

August 27, 2012

NIGA Chairman Remembers Immeasurable Impact of Stanley Crooks

This past Saturday, I was notified that Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Chairman Stanley R. Crooks began his journey to the spirit world. This comes only two days after my visit with him at the St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Stanley Crooks was an outstanding leader, chief, and visionary. In his life and leadership, he exemplified the Dakota virtues of courage, respect, generosity and wisdom. Over the past twenty plus years, Chairman Crooks showed the courage to always stand up for Indian sovereignty in the Halls of Congress, the state capitol, and at home. Stanley always stood strong for the integrity of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which he viewed as a modern day treaty.

Chairman Crooks respected his people, neighbors, tribal, state and Federal leaders, and they respected him. With his leadership and the Shakopee Mdewakanton’s generosity are legendary. Traveling through Sioux country, one can see Shakopee’s support for other Indian tribes–at Rosebud, the Turtle Creek Crossing Grocery Store; at Pine Ridge, Prairie Winds Casino, at Standing Rock, the new wing at Prairie Knights Hotel; and at Cheyenne River, the nursing home. These are just a few examples of his determination to support Indian country.

Chairman Crooks had a great vision for Indian country. As sovereigns we are part of the American family of governments and our children look forward to a bright future. He saw his people lifted above the constraints of poverty and instilled them with the strength and resilience that you see today for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Chairman Crooks also had the wisdom to listen to others and respect their views.

Over the recent years, we had direct challenges to our efforts in Washington, D.C., and Chairman Crooks came in to outweigh these demoralizing threats by using his own voice to share the real benefits of Indian gaming. Time and again, Chairman Crooks demonstrated his unwavering leadership in support of Indian sovereignty. He called upon tribal leaders to develop a plan to educate Congress on the benefits of Indian gaming and the strength of tribal self-determination. His leadership was the backbone of the tribal government effort to defend Indian sovereignty.

Under his leadership, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community members have approved community donations of more than $243 million to tribes and charitable organizations since 1996 and tribal loans of more than $450 million for economic development and community development. He served as Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community for more than 20 successive years and was reelected for a new four-year term of office in January of 2012.

Crooks, who became the tribe’s chairman in 1992, was a national figure in Indian country, serving as the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association for many years and the tribe’s representative to the National Indian Gaming Association, as well as to the National Congress of American Indians.

National tribal leaders selected Stanley Crooks for the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award in 2005. This award recognized his commitment to the advancement of tribal sovereignty. And in 2010, they gave him the Chairman’s Leadership Award of Excellence for his environmental advocacy work. These awards are the highest honors NIGA gives to leaders dedicating their lives to making a better world for their people. Chairman Crooks has surely demonstrated that not just to his people, but also to his neighbors and other tribes.

Every time I visited with the Chairman, I walked away motivated and energized. As soon as I heard of his passing, I immediately notified my son, Brandon Yellowbird Stevens, councilman at Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, who then informed our tribal officials. I then informed former Oneida Chairman Rick Hill. Chairman Hill, who previously served as Chairman of NIGA, made the introduction and developed my friendship to Chairman Crooks.

When I last saw Chairman Crooks, I assured him that we will stand united with our tribes and that his vision will continue with our leaders. He taught us well and I thank him for his knowledge and generosity. Today, you can feel the immeasurable impact he gave his people and to Indian country.

He was a leader for many and on behalf of the National Indian Gaming Association, we thank Chairman Stanley Crooks for his tenacity, quick wit and passion.

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) in Washington, DC. Stevens is currently serving his sixth two-year term as the organization’s leader. NIGA, established in 1985, is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country. He is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. He and his wife of over 30 years, Cheryl, have five children, and 10 grandchildren.

Services for Chairman Stanley R. Crooks

Traditional All Night Wake will be held after 5:00PM Tuesday, August 28th , 2012, at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center, with Prayer Service Tuesday at 7:00 PM. All tribal leaders and officials will speak immediately following the Prayer Service.

Funeral Services Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 at 11:00 AM at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center. Officiating is the Reverend Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo. The program has been finalized by the Crooks family. Pallbearers are Joseph Bathel, Jesse Crooks-Archambault, John Granlund, Alex Blue, Randy Crooks, and Lance Crooks.

Due to space limitations and the many people expected to attend services for Chairman Stanley R. Crooks, please be aware that seating inside Tiowakan Spiritual Center is limited and auxillary locations will be utilized. Parking at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center throughout the Wake and Funeral Services will be limited to immediate family members. Auxillary parking with shuttle will be available.

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Shakopee Mdewakanton Chairman Stanley R. Crooks Remembered and Missed By Many

Stanley R. Crooks, the beloved chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and revered Indian country leader, died on Saturday, August 25 at the St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minnesota, surrounded by his family and friends, the nation announced on its website.

Crooks,70, was the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s (SMSC) chairman since 1992, serving successive four-year terms for more than 20 years. He was reelected last January. During his tenure, SMSC grew and prospered and set the model throughout Indian country for unprecedented generosity and philanthropy toward both Native and non-Native peoples, organizations and communities. Since 1996, SMSC has donated more than $243 million to tribes and charitable organizations and has made loans of more than $450 million for economic and community development.

“Here at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, we are firm in our commitment to help others; this is ingrained in us as Dakota people from a young age,” Crooks wrote in the nation’s annual donations report for 2011. “It is our tradition, our cultural responsibility, to help those who have not been as fortunate as we have been. We get no incentive or tax breaks because of our charitable giving. It is just the right thing to do.”

The nation also issued statements from Crooks’ colleagues on the Shakopee council. Vice-Chairman Charlie Vig said he was honored to have worked with Crooks for the past 20 years “and especially over the last eight months on the Tribal Council. Chairman Crooks was a leader in every sense of the word.  He was a true mentor and a true leader. We join with his family, friends, and all those who were privileged to know Chairman Crooks in mourning his passing. We offer our deepest sympathies to his family in this difficult time.”

Secretary/Treasurer Keith B. Anderson said he was “deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Chairman Stanley Crooks. Stan had dedicated himself to improving the lives of others. He was truly a visionary and a fierce defender of tribal sovereignty. Stan has been a mentor, colleague, and a true friend. My association with the chairman over the last 20 plus years has enabled me to grow as a person. He was truly a modern day giant. We have lost a true legend. We love you, Stanley, rest in peace. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife and his family members. Stanley, your hard work and dedication will endure for generations to come.”

According to the Shakopee’s constitutional procedures, Vig succeeds Crooks and Anderson assumes the office of vice-chairman. A tribal election will be held to fill the office of secretary/treasurer.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., in a voice husky with emotion,   described Crooks as a “giant of a man, a leader, a model, a mentor who taught us everything. How he speaks, how he dresses—he’s a moderate man and everything he does is real and all I’ve ever known him to do is to try to help others.”

Stevens said he attends the Shakopee annual wacipi every year “because I love him and respect him so much.”  Each year he and Crooks would spend an hour or so in Crooks’ recreational vehicle that was parked at the powwow grounds, and the two men would talk about all the current issues and events in Indian country. This year when Stevens attended the wacipi, which took place August 17-19, he visited Crooks in the hospital.

“When I left him a few days ago in the afternoon, he was surrounded by his wife and tribal council who are very close to him. I told him just to rest and get better and not to worry about Washington and Indian country because he had trained us well. He was one of the finest Indian leaders ever! Certainly, he was my teacher. He squeezed my hand and tried to talk.”

Although Crooks’ passing is sad for everyone, Stevens said, “You don’t have to worry, we’ll celebrate his memory. We’ve got to be able to help more people do what he did. They (Shakopee) had a good operation, but Stan was helping people long before they developed their resources (from gaming and other enterprises) and he really set the standard for helping others, especially other tribes, and that’s what we have to do with our resources, whether they’re great or small. He was a modern day warrior,” Stevens said.

Philip Baker-Shenk, an attorney with the firm Holland and Knight that represents the Shakopee, said Crooks had endured a long respiratory illness that turned acute in the last several weeks. “Stan was a dear friend. And a tireless defender of tribal sovereignty. And a huge patron of so many good causes and a giant mentor for so many good people in Indian country. Original giants like Chairman Stanley Crooks can never be replaced; at best they can only be copied,” Shenk said. Crooks was known for his fierce defense of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. “It’s where he began and ended every thought,” Baker-Shenk said. Crooks had an analytical mind and “the ability to penetrate through the clutter of personality and detail and distraction to find the essence of an issue and then make a decision about a particular wise course of action and then executive it,” Baker-Shenk said. “I’m emotionally overwhelmed by the loss and I know so many, many people are.”

In a statement on his website, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers said, “Today, Minnesota lost a great leader in Chairman Stanley Crooks. His legacy of helping people in need and working hard to improve the lives of American Indians will endure in Minnesota’s history. Stanley was a remarkable and wise leader who did an enormous amount of good in his life, not only for his own tribe, but for many people all across the Midwest. He was not only a great individual leader, but a great Minnesotan. It was a privilege to know Stanley and I am proud to call him a personal friend. My family and I send my condolences and prayers to Stanley’s family and the members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.”

Crooks was a well known and hugely respected national figure. He served as the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association for many years and was the SMSC representative to the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), as well as to the National Congress of American Indians. A United States Navy veteran, he served during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His father, the late Norman M. Crooks, was the first chairman of SMSC. Crooks received many honors including:

  • the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award, honoring a tribal leader who demonstrates a commitment to the advancement of tribal sovereignty, from NIGA in 2005;
  • the National Indian Gaming Association Leadership Award on April 7, 2010
  • the NIGA Chairman’s Leadership Award of Excellence: Going Green for Mother Earth on October 20, 2010;
  • a Global Gaming Business magazine spotlight as “25 People to Watch” in January 2011;
  • Tribal Leader of the Year by the Native American Finance Officers Association on March 23, 2011;
  • 2012 Eagle Visionary Award Winner in July 2012 by Indian Gaming magazine and was the first of six honorees into their newly established Indian Gaming Hall of Fame.

In a recent interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Crooks reflected on Dakota history, culture and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath, “which was ever present on his mind this year, the 150-year remembrance of that tragic time in Dakota history,” the nation announced on its website. The war, which had its roots in treaty violations by the United States in the late 1850’s that resulted in hunger and hardship among the Dakota, began on August 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota, and ended with the U.S. Army’s mass execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota—an act that would be considered a war crime and a crime against humanity by today’s standards.

Asked about the lingering consequences of the 1862 war and mass execution on Dakota people, Crooks said that year’s events set the stage for how the federal government planned to treat the Lakota and Dakota people: first, they would be put on reservations. “Then they would, I hate to say it, but they had an active plan of extermination. Fortunately, a lot of good people in Washington and other cities said, ‘We can’t do that. And now we’ve got to find a way to deal with them,’” Crooks said. Assimilation came next but “Indian people are not amenable to assimilation.” Crooks reflected back to Roman times when conquered people were just wiped out or taken in and if they were taken in the conquerors took away their language and culture. “I think the United States did something similar with Native Americans. It’s all about the land, obviously, as they were growing we were in the way of that… But we’re still here and we found a way now to continue to work together.”

The nation announced Crooks passing “with great sadness.”

As he journeys to the Spirit World, the nation said, Crooks leaves his wife of 48 years, Cheryl; two daughters, Cherie Crooks and Alisa Crooks; four grandchildren: Joe Bathel, Kc Bathel, Dakota Crooks, and Jesse Crooks; three great grandchildren, Neveah Bathel, Dreamma Crooks, and Aiyanna Bathel; uncle, Clifford Crooks, Senior; brothers, Mike (Renate) Crooks, Danny “Skip” (Laurie) Crooks, and George Crooks. He was preceded in death by his parents Norman and Edith Crooks, and brothers Norman Woodrow Crooks, Alex Crooks, and Alfred Crooks.

A traditional all night wake will be held after 5 p.m. Tuesday, August 28 at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center, with Prayer Service 7 p.m. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, August 29 at 11 a.m. at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center followed by interment at Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Cemetery. Due to space limitations inside Tiowakan Spiritual Center and the many people expected to attend the services, auxiliary locations and a shuttle service will be available. Parking at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center throughout the wake and funeral services will be limited to immediate family members. Complete information will be posted on the Shakopee website as soon as details are finalized.

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November 23, 2012

NIGA’s Stevens: Take This Day to Build a Stronger Family Bond

The following is a message from Ernie L. Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association:

“During this time, many of us celebrate Thanksgiving. While in so many ways we struggle with the history of this day, there are still a lot of memories of quality time spent with our families. And I encourage that.

“Throughout our generations, the ability to share a meal with our loved ones was something that not all of us could afford to do. Today, many of our families are separated by distance, either by what our jobs call us to do or where the Creator wants us to go. The family bond that we share today, I encourage you, is something that we should build stronger more than ever.

“This bond is upheld not just by the concept of gratitude, but preserved by those who do not ask for it. Our United States military have served because of an unwavering sense of honor and call of duty. We will forever be thankful for our brothers and sisters who have served honorably in our Nation’s military. We must remember the 6,639 of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. We must remember them in our Honor songs and our prayers.

“We are thankful for the gaming industry that has allowed us to be providers once again for our communities. People just like you, who are filled with hard work and determination, are continuing to create healthy communities. This industry has provided opportunities for our children and has delivered a quality of life acceptable to our elders.

“While we still have much to do, our journey is not over. We are blessed to see positive outlook on the growth and diversification of our tribal economies. Let us continue to work together.

“From my family to yours, may you enjoy this day bonded with all our relations.”

Ernest L. Stevens Jr. “Yo-ha-hes”

Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) in Washington, DC. Stevens is currently serving his sixth two-year term as the organization’s leader. NIGA, established in 1985, is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country. He is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. He and his wife Cheryl of over 30 years have five children, and 10 grandchildren.

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