San Diego, CA April 1, 2015 - Day three of the National Indian Gaming Association's (NIGA)
Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention featured a new keynote address feature. NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. gave the opening remarks and reminded us that, "The things we do in the gaming world today reflects throughout Indian Country. It's imperative that we bring what we learn here today back to our homelands, it's our responsibility."
Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior spoke to a packed house this morning. Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, addressed a number of areas affecting Indian Country. Washburn started by talking about restoring trust with Native American tribes. During President Obama's administration the White House Tribal Conference was started, which is now in its 6th year. Tribal consultations have been key, as our tribal people are who know best.
The 81 tribal trust settlement cases and water right settlements have been a step in the right direction, as have been the White House Consultations on Native American Affairs cabinet meetings. Washburn informed attendees that President Obama's visits to Indian Country gave him a renewed interest for the issues faced in tribal communities. An aggressive approach is being taken during the last part of the President's administration.
Washburn went on to address appropriations in Indian Country. He recognized that most Native American struggles are bipartisan issues and that funding should be mandatory so it does not have to be requested each year. He also spoke to the reforming of Indian education. Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewel and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education are big supporters and recognize part of the solution is tribal self-governance. Washburn informed the attendees of the enhancement funds that are available for tribes to create their own school districts and used the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians as an example. This year the first ever Tribal Youth Gathering will kick off this summer with President Obama visiting with tribal youth in Washington, DC.
Washburn's keynote also spoke to restoring tribal homelands. Since 2009, 1,898 applications to take land into trust have been completed resulting in 298,095 acres. Washburn said when asked how much land in trust is enough, "Maybe when we get North America back I'll be satisfied." That led his keynote to how we pursue economic sovereignty. Under the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership (HEARTH) Act, tribes approve leases for commercial, residential, renewable energy and other projects, with 18 tribal HEARTH Act laws approved to date.
The keynote address wrapped up with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which was enacted 35 years ago. Washburn received applause from the crowd when he pointed out how the Act was not living up to its promises and how the listening session helped to adjust the guidelines. Indian Country recently experienced victory with the Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik case, which affirmed the fundamental rights of parents to raise their children in their traditional culture and restored the right to due process. Now those guidelines must be enforced. Washburn ended with encouraging everyone to work together to win in the fourth quarter of the Obama Administration.