Niagara Falls, NY - The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) honored Kevin Brown, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, and Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with the prestigious John Kieffer Sovereignty Award at the 2016 NIGA Mid-Year Conference and Expo.
Hosted at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino, the John Kieffer Sovereignty Award was presented to Brown and Benjamin during the Sovereignty Banquet that is held each year during the NIGA Mid-Year Conference.
Named in honor of the late John Kieffer of the Spokane tribe, recipients of this prestigious award are chosen based on their embodiment of NIGA's mission and purpose. Kieffer was a dedicated member of the NIGA Executive Committee from 1993 to 1999 and advocate for Indian self-determination and tribal sovereignty. Kieffer walked on in 1999, but not before leaving this legacy as a true leader and warrior for Indian country.
"This memorial award is not an accident. This memorial award is about who we are; about the hard work and grit and determination that we put together. We all have our mentors and John Kieffer one of mine. Several people in this room knew who he was and what he did and also looked to him as a mentor," Chairman Stevens told the crowd as he introduced the award before presenting it to Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin.
Upon accepting the award, Benjamin said "To me, this award is all about tribal leadership. It is about what we do every day and what we do to stand up for sovereignty. Benjamin spoke about the importance of having a united front for the principals and the rights we believe in. "We need to stand with each other more, we need to fight for the right problems together, because the battles are never over but together we can beat anyone and that is the power of Indian country."
Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin was recently re-elected for her fifth term as the leader of the Executive Branch of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. In her sixteen years as Chief Executive she has led the Mille Lacs Band in working together to achieve many goals to improve the quality of life for Tribal members. Among them, economic development beyond gaming, increased housing, improved education systems, expanded cultural programming, furthering infrastructure for development and increasing health and human services offerings. Having been at the onset of Indian Gaming, Benjamin knows the importance of achieving economic success beyond gaming and is seeing through the vision of her Elder's through Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. Their current economic portfolio consists of gaming, hospitality, resort, media/marketing, wastewater treatment, convenience stores, cinema theatre, laundry services and a subway franchise. Not only does she tirelessly work to improve the lives of her people, but she is a strong advocate for Indian Self-Determination and Tribal Sovereignty for all of Indian Country. Benjamin has been a staunch advocate for Treaty Rights and has continuously been an ambassador and diplomat with other governmental bodies in this regard. Benjamin's service to Indian Country remains endless as she currently fulfills many other duties as a board member of the American Indian Law Resource Center, Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, and the U.S. Attorney General's Tribal Nations Leadership Council among many others.
Chairman Stevens then presented the John Kieffer Award to Chairman Brown, who recognized tribal leaders and family for paving the way and carrying the torch of tribal sovereignty before him.
In addressing the continued fight for tribal sovereignty and expansion of tribal economic opportunity, Brown said, "We can't just play good defense. We have to go on the offense. We must move the ball, and we must do it on our own. We must do it by generating economic progress through interdependence and becoming an integrated part of the larger economy; not just the underlying sovereignty."
In closing, Brown stated, "Our pursuit of sovereignty is never over. All of us will ensure that the future generations of our tribes will be sustainable. I believe that is where our work is as leaders in Indian Country. I think that this award tonight will become a persistent reminder of our high obligation and responsibility to our tribe, our tribal members, and to our nation."
After serving 25 honorable years in the United States Army with extensive leadership and organizational management experience, Brown was elected to the Mohegan Tribal Council and then subsequently selected as Chairman within the same day on October 7, 2013. In Brown's short, three years as Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe he has made some monumental steps forward in their business development. In 2015 the Mohegan Tribe was awarded a license from the Korean Government to develop and build a first-of-its-kind integrated resort at Incheon International Airport in Korea. Currently, Chairman Brown has brokered a joint venture with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in Connecticut where they are pursuing a Commercial Gaming License in Hartford. In the spirit of John Kieffer, Chairman Brown is advancing the lives of his people and other Indian Tribes by promoting economic self-sufficiency in innovative and untraditional means. Chairman Brown's extensive career and educational achievements have prepared him well to lead his nation in full-filling their commitment to the next thirteen generations. During his Army career, Brown held stateside management of a large Army base at Fort Riley, Kansas where he was the equivalent of city manager for a city of 55,000. Additionally, Brown served as an analyst at the United States Pentagon in our Nation's capital after receiving his Masters of Science in Operational Research and Systems Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Chairman Brown also holds a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the United States Military Academy, a Master of Arts in Public Diplomacy from Norwich University, and a Doctoral Candidacy in Security Studies from Kansas University.
This year, Brown and Benjamin joined the ranks of past recipients of this honor including Kurt Blue Dog of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Tracy Burris of the Chickasaw Nation; Chairman Mark Brown of the Mohegan Tribe; Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; Anthony R. Pico, former chairman of the Viejas Band of Mission Indians; NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., and former President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Charlie Colombe, just name a few.