Indian Gaming 2015: Cultural Reception and Chief Melanie Benjamin


San Diego, March 31, 2015 - Indian Gaming 2015 attendees enjoyed an evening of dancing and celebration as the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) presented the Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award to Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe during the Indian Gaming 2015 Cultural Reception.

 Mike Her Many Horses blessed us as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening's spectacular Cultural Reception, while the sounds of the California Bird Singers began with their songs. The Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers and NIGA Treasurer, Andy Ebona also took the stage. Treasurer Ebona, an Alaska Native from the Douglas Village, proudly works to ensure these important cultural performances are included as Native American culture is all throughout Indian Gaming 2015.

 The 5th Annual Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award is a prestigious honor given by NIGA to someone carrying on Mr. Wapato's message of determination and powerful advocacy. The late Tim Wapato was the former Executive Director of NIGA and had a very illustrious career from being a Los Angeles Police Detective to his work with his own tribe in Colville, WA to his powerful presence in Washington, DC.

 Mrs. Gay Kingman-Wapato continues the work she did with her husband with the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association and was in attendance with her family to present the award along with NIGA Chairman Stevens to Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Chief Benjamin leads the executive branch of tribal government and was first elected Chief Executive in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Chief Benjamin's hope to carryout former Chief Arthur Gahbow's vision for the Band to use gaming as an economic development tool, is becoming a reality, and for that she was recognized. 

 Rick Hill and some of the NIGA founders gathered on stage to remember the warrior spirit of TimWapato that Chief Benjamin embodies. Mr. Hill told stories of some of the early founders, Mr. Wapato and the trials they faced in those days. As she accepted her award, Chief Benjamin thanked NIGA and the Wapato family and said, "Thank you so much, I'm deeply honored to receive this award in the name of one of our greatest modern day warriors, Tim Wapato. This award being on cultural night makes it even more special for me because of the connection between culture and tribal sovereignty."

 In honor of Chief Benjamin the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Smoke Dancers captivated reception attendees with a performance of their traditional Warrior Dance and a song honoring our tribal women. Chairman Stevens and his family demonstrated the spirited moves of the Oneida Nation Smoke Dance.

 The night came to an end with NIGA Chairman Steven's closing remarks. Indian Gaming 2015 continues Wednesday with a keynote address by Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs at 9:00 A.M. and the tradeshow ribbon cutting following at 9:45 A.M.