San Diego, CA – April 02, 2019 – The member tribes of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) came together last Tuesday to conduct their annual membership meeting at the San Diego Convention Center to discuss many issues related to not only the Indian gaming industry but critical legislative issues surrounding Indian country.
President Jefferson Keel of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) joined Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., and Rory Wheeler, NCAI Youth Commission Co-President to assist in welcoming the tribal leadership.
Cody Martinez, Chairman of the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, welcomed the tribes to San Diego. “We welcome you all here to not only celebrate the National Indian Gaming Association but ultimately we are here to celebrate tribal sovereignty at work. It is outstanding to see so many of our industry gather here.” He added, “Over the last thirty-five years, Indian gaming has enabled Sycuan and many other tribal governments to thrive, but we recognize that Indian gaming is not an end to itself, but a means to a better future for our tribal government and communities.”
David Bean, Vice Chairman of NIGA, greeted the tribal leadership “I raise my hands to each one of you for being here today. It is an honor to serve alongside each of you, standing for the people and the tribal communities we serve, protecting tribal sovereignty. I know many of you and those before you have paved a better way for our future generations.” Bean added, “We work hard as tribal leaders always engaging with members of Congress, and the administration in defense of tribal sovereignty and promoting economic development through Indian gaming.”
NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., delivered the annual State of Indian Gaming address, recognizing the tribal leadership and tribal government gaming success by saying, “You know why we have a $34 billion industry? You know why we provide jobs and how the offshoot of this industry generates more than 700,000 jobs? You come from the heart of those communities.” Stevens continued, “Where we come from is where our wealth is, it is the reason we create these opportunities – more housing, more development, more programs, and services. It is so our kids can invest in their future. That is what we are here for, and that is why we do what we do. That is what Tribal government gaming is and how we define wealth.”
“Indian gaming has always been about job creation; about seamless, comprehensive regulation; and about giving back to our brother and sister tribal governments and our neighbors.” Stevens added, “Indian gaming is about our future: Indian Gaming is educating our Native youth and providing a path forward for the next seven generations. It is because we have great leadership with our boots on the ground, working hard and educating the world about our gaming industry.”
Stevens spoke about the recent 30-year celebration of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.) He said “We celebrate what Indian country did for an act that diminished our rights as sovereign governments. We celebrate the things that we did to make the best of something that was intended to dilute our supreme court victory. We have made the best of the congressional action we call IGRA; we will continue to build a strong future. Today, here we stand, advocating for our industry - continuing to take charge of moving Indian Country forward.”
Paulette Jordan, NIGA Secretary, conducted the official membership roll call which declared a quorum.
NIGA Treasurer Andy Ebona presented his treasurer’s report, which included the annual audit update submitted by Joseph Eve, of WIPFLI LLC.
NIGA Vice Chairman David Bean then officially opened up nominations for the positions of Chairman and Secretary, where both current Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. and Secretary Paulette Jordon received sole nominations.
The first-panel discussion for the day was the “Safeguarding the Seventh Generation: Risk Management in Indian Country,” brought by Mark Van Norman of Van Norman Consulting, and Dereck Valdo, Chief Executive Officer of AMERIND Risk, a native-owned insurance company based in Indian Country at the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico.
Indian nations, as sovereigns, possess sovereign immunity from the 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-dating the United States. While the Supreme Court has recognized 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.
Tribal leaders heard about the importance of having a tier level system of risk management in place through insurance to protect Tribal Sovereignty and Tribal Sovereign Immunity. By putting coverage in place, Tribes are exercising their sovereignty and safeguard their assets from civil and tort claims and avoid a dangerous precedent that is being set in the courts to erode Tribal Sovereignty.
In the afternoon membership meeting, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Tribal Council and members of their business council presented a check, contributing to NIGA to support the organization's mission of representation in Washington, DC.
Keith Anderson, Shakopee Vice Chairman, presented the check to the NIGA Board of Directors and said, “It is our humble honor to present NIGA with this contribution today. We value the work they do for all of Indian Country in Washington, D.C.” Anderson added, “We have done this for many years.” Chairman Steven said, “The impact of the Shakopee contribution and support going back to the late Stanley Crooks, all the way to the current leadership continues to play a vital role in D.C.”
The Legislative Update panel followed. The session was moderated by Jason Giles, Executive Director of the National Indian Gaming Association, and included panelists Aurene Martin, President of Spirit Rock Consulting, Steve Bodmer, General Counsel of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and John Harte, Principal at the Mapetsi Policy Group.
Liz Homer of Homer Law moderated the session entitled “Indian Country Regulatory Update,” where tribal leaders were provided updates from Jonadev Chaudhuri, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and Jamie Hummingbird, Director of the Cherokee Gaming Commission and Chairman of the National Tribal Gaming Commissioners/Regulators (NTGCR.)
The Tribal Economic Development discussion rounded out the day of discussion, which included some of the most successful Tribal business people in Indian Country. Chris James, President and CEO, of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) moderated the discussion with experts Joanne Whiterabbit of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce, Joe Nayquonabe, Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians and Jamie Fullmer, Chairman and CEO of Blue Stone Strategy.