National Indian Gaming Association Hosts Annual Tribal Membership Meeting Virtually

Washington, D.C. – October 7, 2020 – The National Indian Gaming Association hosted its annual Tribal Leaders meeting on Wednesday. Due to the continued caution brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Membership Meeting was held virtually for the first time in the National Indian Gaming Association history. This is our organization's annual opportunity to provide critical updates and reports from the Indian gaming community and the importance of the upcoming November election.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., opened up the meeting by acknowledging the tribal leadership's commitment to our industry, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak. "This pandemic has touched almost every aspect of our lives, changing how we live, work, learn, pray, and engage with our community. This silent pandemic impacts us all emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially." Stevens added, "The burden continues to lie on the shoulders of our tribal leaders and every individual to do their part to help us to prepare for and meet the challenges we face. We have found that if there was ever a time in life when we need to stand firm together, it is now."

The agenda included several issues and topics, including reports by the Chairman, Executive Director, Jason Giles, Deputy Executive Director Danielle Her Many Horses, Treasurer Andy Ebona, and Kevin Leecy, the Tribal Membership Director.

Congresswomen Debra Haaland (NM-1) and Sharice Davids (KS-3) also provided tribal membership with congressional and legislative updates. As the first two Native American women serving in Congress, their messaging shines a bright light on how far Native women can exceed in this Country, and truly lead Indian Country into a new century.

Executive Director Giles reported on the impact Covid-19 has had on the legislative efforts and the organizational operations of the National Indian Gaming Association. He thanked the Tribal Leadership for their responsiveness during this pandemic in helping the Association lobby Congress on the Cares Act and Heroes Act legislation.

Treasurer Andy Ebona, Tlingit-Haida in Alaska, provided an update on the overall financial condition of the organization and its operational budget. As part of the Treasurer's report, board members heard from Wipfli LLP/Joseph Eve & Associates, who presented the 2019 Audit report. The National Indian Gaming Association received an unqualified 2019 audit report, the highest mark available, but also noted that FY 2021 is going to be a challenge for the gaming industry. The Treasurer commended the staff at the National Indian Gaming Association for making the budget adjustments necessary to preserve capital through FY 2020.

Membership Director Kevin Leecy provided updates on the 2020 tribal membership due and the upcoming 2021 membership drive. Chairman Stevens joined Mr. Leecy in commending Tribal Nations for supporting NIGA through the pandemic with continued membership dues.

Several action items were presented to the Tribal Membership for discussion and consideration. The leadership at the National Indian Gaming Association is going to consider a marketing re-branding as we enter 2021. The membership was also presented with plans to address a new Congress over COVID relief funding and tax fairness. Indian Country has sacrificed tremendously in this fight and has done its part to prevent viral transmission on our reservations. However, it has not been easy or inexpensive, and just like our counterparts at the State and Local level, Tribal Governments desperately need a new round of COVID relief funding. The Tribal membership was presented with proposals to call on Congress to enact the CARES ACT 4, recently passed by the House of Representatives.

In addition, with an eye towards the November elections and a new Congress in January, Indian Country must unite to call upon Congress to enact Legislation and provide equitable tax treatment for Tribal Governments.
For too long, Indian Country has relied on the Treasury or Supreme Court to decide complex tax issues for Indian Country. Now is the time to be forward-looking as all enterprises recover and reset from this pandemic

These initiatives are designed to unite our Tribal Membership so we can actively engage our Federal partners in seeking additional funding relief to combat and address shortages caused by the COVID pandemic. We recognize our Tribal Governments and the gaming industry are going to be dealing with this pandemic well into next year, and our membership needs to be on the same page when a new Congress is sworn in this January. Our Tribal membership is urged to join Chairman Stevens during the NCAI Annual Virtual Conference at our Gaming Sub-Committee Meeting November 10-11, (Details TBA).

The "Native Vote" Panel closed out the day's discussion. It was moderated by Danielle Her Many Horses, Indian Gaming Deputy Executive Director, and General Counsel. The Native Vote discussion included Yawna Allen, Director of Civic Engagement at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and National Indian Gaming Association "My Vote Will Count," Native Youth Ambassador Faith Holyan.

Ms. Allen presented NCAI's national, nonpartisan initiative, Native Vote, to revitalize civic engagement in Indian Country. Allen said, "Tribes are America's first governments and Native Vote works to ensure all Native citizens participate in shaping the future of their communities."

Ms. Allen shared that the NCAI Native Vote initiative encourages American Indians and Alaska Natives to exercise their right to vote and works to protect voting rights across the Country with four areas of focus, including their Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) and registration efforts, Election, and voter protection awareness and advocacy, Voter and candidate education and Tribal access to data.

Ms. Holyan provided her outreach efforts targeting the young Native voter social media targeted campaign to encourage our young voters to vote. Ms. Hoylan shared, "I have continued to promote our Native Youth to get registered and to go VOTE and have had a tremendous response!" Ms. Holyan's social media campaign has included educating peers on the importance of the Native vote through election trivia and native vote t-shirt giveaways.

She added, "We can make a difference in both in the National and local elections! Don't think your vote won't matter, it can and will count, so make a plan, check your registration, and VOTE!"

The National Indian Gaming Association developed this grassroots effort with partners, including Member Tribes, sister tribal organizations, and prominent events throughout Indian Country to educate, empower, and encourage all Native Americans to register to vote and commit to going to the polls.

The National Indian Gaming Association will keep its membership updated on upcoming meetings and conferences. For future meeting dates and times, whether virtual or in-person, please contact Danielle Her Many Horses at dhermanyhorses@indiangaming.org, or Chelsea Blake at cblake@indiangaming.org.