NIGA hosted 2019 Winter Legislative Summit

National Indian Gaming Association Winter Legislative Summit kicked off on Tuesday hearing from Congresswoman Deb Haaland. After her report, women leadership and representatives in attendance joined her for a photo opportunity.

Washington, D.C, – February 26, 2019 – The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) kicked off the 2019 Winter Legislative Summit today at the Stanley Crooks Tribal Leaders Conference Center in Washington, D.C. The two-day legislative summit is designed for Tribal Leaders from around the country to come together to discuss issues central to tribal communities and governments.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Stevens welcomed the leadership: “This Summit is one of our most instrumental gatherings each year. The Government Shutdown delayed this important Conference, but Congress and Indian Country are back at work in D.C. The work that we have to do here is immense and comes with an enormous responsibility to make sure Indian Country’s concerns are heard. While it may look like an uphill battle for us in the era that we are facing, we continue to assemble in D.C. because we still have a lot to accomplish. We have to be ready to take on the issues with the full strength of Indian country, standing firm with our Allies, and always protecting tribal sovereignty.”

Coming off the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Winter Executive Session a few weeks ago, this is the first event hosted by NIGA with the 116th Congress. Throughout the day Congressional Leaders joined the tribal leadership to provide legislative updates regarding many pressing Indian country issues.

Freshman Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Laguna-Pueblo, (D-NM) started the morning with a welcome to the tribal leadership. Haaland is one of the first Native American Women to be elected into Congress in 2018. Despite being new to Congress Haaland has been pegged take on a critical leadership role in Congressional Committees including being selected as vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Haaland is the first Native American to hold that leadership role in Congress. She provided overviews of issues she is has been working on including Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Violence Against Women, climate change, renewable energy, and universal healthcare and conducted a question and answer session with the tribal leadership.

Congresswoman Haaland also took on the vital role of Co-Chair of the House Native American Caucus.

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Jefferson Keel followed Haaland in addressing the tribes. He applauded NIGA efforts and the tribes that are engaged in gaming, He said, a lot of those tribes subsidize many programs in tribal communities. They make sure tribal communities gaming has become the lifeblood of many of our communities. Without that revenue, we could not do the things that we are. We are raising the quality of life, especially in communities that wouldn’t have things otherwise.”

Congresswoman Kendra Horn (OK-5), who is another freshman representative also met with the leadership. A strong advocate for Indian country, last month Horn joined Oklahoma Congressmen Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole in cosponsoring the Pay Our Doctors Act, to fund the Indian Health Service (IHS) for the next fiscal year during the government shutdown. The bill will ensure that tribally-run hospitals and Urban Indian Clinics receive the funding they need to keep their doors open during the government shutdown.

Sponsors of the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2019 Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Congressman John Moolenaar (R-MI) also took time to meet with the tribal leaders to discuss the TLSA and other Indian country issues. Last month, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act was introduced in both the House and the Senate. The bill was unanimously passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) on January 29, 2018.

The leadership then heard from Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA). Cook serves on the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples in the House. Cook has served as a member of this subcommittee since his first term of office in 2013. He has been a strong advocate on Native American and tribal issues for well over a decade.

Congressman Ruben Gallegos (D-AZ), followed Cook, providing his congressional update. Gallegos who was elected by his peers to serve as the Chairman of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the House Natural Resources Committee for the 116th Congress. The Subcommittee, formerly known as the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, is responsible for all matters regarding Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and the 573 federally recognized Native American tribes and their relations with the United States.

Gallegos shared with the tribal leaders that he and Congresswoman Haaland recently re-introduced a bill to restore and expand protections for the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

Tribal Sovereign Immunity and Tribal Risk Assessments closed out the discussion for the day. Lead by Mark Van Norman, of Atcitty Van Norman, LLC and John Harte, of the Mapetsi Policy Group. Indian nations, as sovereigns, possess sovereign immunity from suit just as do Federal and State Governments. Tribal sovereign immunity is a recognized doctrine of Federal law based on the status of Indian tribes as sovereigns pre-date the United States.

While the Supreme Court has recognized that tribal sovereignty immunity, the lower federal courts, and State Supreme Court have been inconsistent. This challenge may also represent an opportunity that can be addressed through the use of risk management, risk pools, tribal tort reform and Federal legislation affirming the authority of Indian tribes to maintain our sovereign immunity and establish our laws on tort reform.

The first day concluded with an evening reception at NIGA with tribal leaders and members of Congress and congressional staff.

The 2019 NIGA Winter Legislative summit will conclude tomorrow with another day of discussions with congressional and administrative representatives. This leading up to the next tribal leadership meetings to be held at the Indian Gaming 2019 Tradeshow and Convention in San Diego, California on April 1 – 4, 2019.