Stevens addressed the member tribes; “The purpose of this conference is not just get together, but it is to move Indian country forward. We have so many leaders here that have made a commitment to preserve and defend our sovereignty and rights for generations to come. I respect that commitment.”
“We are facing new challenges today, and by coming together at such a historical place such as Seminole, we understand that when we work together, we can accomplish much for our people,” Stevens added.
Some of these challenges were discussed in depth during the NIGA Executive Board meeting held and during the Tribal leaders membership meeting. Action items such as Internet gaming, the IRS and tax regulations, and Land Into Trust issues were top topics.
Jaynie Parrish, Field Coordinator for Rock the Vote, addressed the tribal leadership and encouraged the Native American community to be active in the voting process by casting their ballots for the upcoming election. NIGA and Rock the Vote have joined forces to emphasize the importance of the Native American vote and the difference it can make in tribal communities.
Chairman Stevens, who has been excited to work with a young Native American leader, who he has known for many years in Jaynie Parrish. Stevens said, “No question, Indian people and the folks we interact with through business and employment are a tremendous voting influence. It is not out of our reach to dramatically impact any election, from local, municipal and State elections, all the way to the President of the United States.”
Closing out the conference was the Chairman’s Luncheon, which included some of the most memorable highlights of the mid year meeting. During the luncheon, Chairman Stevens presented the Chairman’s Leadership Award to Chairman James Billie of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Chairman Billie is credited with being the one of the first leaders to bring modern gaming to his land after a long battle with state and federal courts in the late 1970s. Since that time, the Seminoles have become one of the most successful gaming tribes in the United States.
In presenting the award to Chairman Billie, Stevens told the crowd, "Indian country is a strong benefactor of the leadership of the Seminole tribe of Florida. Chairman Billie has dedicated his life to working for the Seminole community. It's great to be here and to share in this legacy as we present him this leadership award. The Seminole tribe is one of the most important examples of positive economic development and growth in Indian country.”
Chairman Billie thanked NIGA for the honor, stating, “I’m usually at the wrong place at the wrong time, but with Indian gaming, I was there at the right time, and I thank the National Indian Gaming Association for recognizing the Seminole’s efforts to get where we are today.”
In addition, acclaimed filmmaker Chris Eyre, of Smoke Signals and Skins fame, presented his latest project at the Chairman’s Luncheon. In collaboration with Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), Eyre will produce “Growing Native,” a seven-part series focusing on reclaiming traditional knowledge and food ways to address critical issues of health and wellness, the environment, and human rights.
“Growing Native” will focus on tribes, stories, and events from seven geographic regions, including the Northwest, Southwest, Southern Plains/Oklahoma, Northeast, Southeast, Northern Plains/Canada, and Alaska.
The two-day conference also highlighted the Mid Year banquet where NIGA presented the prestigious John Kieffer Sovereignty Award to Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc., president Tony Sanchez, Jr. and Joel Frank, Sr., who served as the first National Indian Gaming Commissioner in 1990, appointed by the former Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr. (A previous NIGA press release regarding the John Keiffer awards can be found at www.indiangamingweekly.com)
Greg Abrahamson, a NIGA Member-at-Large, presented the awards to Tony Sanchez Jr. and Joel Frank Sr,, took a moment to share Kieffer’s life and commitment to NIGA and Indian economic development and why these individuals are honored with an award with his namesake.
This year, more than 500 Indian gaming professionals and tribal leadership from around the United States gathered at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for the NIGA Mid-Year Conference.