National Indian Gaming Association Announces Recipients of 2016 John Keiffer Sovereignty Award

WASHINGTON, DC - The National Indian Gaming Association is proud to announce that it will honor 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 Keiffer Sovereignty Award at the 2016 NIGA Mid-Year Conference and Expo which will be hosted at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino from September 12-14, 2016.  

The award is named in honor of the late John Keiffer, who was a dedicated member of the NIGA Executive Committee from 1993 to 1999 and advocate for Indian self-determination and tribal sovereignty. A member of the Spokane tribe, Keiffer walked on in 1999 but not before leaving a legacy as being a true leader and warrior for Indian Country. Recipients of this prestigious award are chosen based on their selfless dedication to advancing the lives of Indian peoples socially and economically, building self-sufficiency through gaming enterprises, and being an advocate for Indian self-determination.

Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., said, "We honor these prominent Native American leaders who have devoted their lives and leadership to improving the overall well-being of their tribal communities and all of Indian country." 

After serving 25 honorable years in the United States Army with extensive leadership and organizational management experience, Brown was sworn in to serve 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. This international venture is a first of its kind for Indian Country. Currently, Chairman Brown and Chairman Rodney Butler of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, on behalf of their nations, have formed a joint venture where they are pursuing a Commercial Gaming License in Hartford. The two Indian Tribes pursuing a commercial gaming license is also an unprecedented business move in Indian Country. In the spirit of John Keiffer, Chairman Brown is advancing the lives of his people and other Indian Tribes by promoting economic self-sufficiency in innovative and untraditional means. Outside of gaming, Chairman Brown has helped lead the tribe's development of Mohegan Holdings LLC, a multi-million dollar startup that employs over 600 people in a wide variety of franchise and stand-alone business ventures. 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 led Soldiers in combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq and 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 Master's 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.  

Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin was recently re-elected for her fifth four-year term as the leader of the Executive Branch of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. During her tenure as Chief Executive, she has led the Mille Lacs Band in working together as a community to achieve many goals to improve the quality of life for Tribal members. Among them, Chief Executive Benjamin has championed economic diversification, increased housing, improved education systems, expanded cultural programming, increased health and human service offerings and furthering infrastructure for development in each of the Band's three districts. Appointed in 1989 to the chief-of-staff role to her mentor, the late Chief Executive Arthur Gahbow, Benjamin has been integrally involved in Indian gaming from its onset. Implementing the vision of her elders, the Band has achieved economic diversification beyond Indian gaming through Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. Under her leadership, the Band purchased the only hotel-convention center in Minnesota's capitol city, St. Paul, as well as another hotel in St. Paul. In addition, the Band recently purchased hotels in Minneapolis, Oklahoma City and a second lake resort. Besides hospitality and gaming, the Band's current economic portfolio consists of media/marketing, wastewater treatment, convenience stores, cinema theatre, laundry services and a subway franchise. Not only does she work tirelessly to improve the lives of her people, but she is a tremendous advocate for Indian Self-Determination and Tribal Sovereignty for all of Indian Country. Most notably, Benjamin has been leading the fight against county attempts to disestablish/diminish the Mille Lacs Reservation, and is a staunch protector of off-reservation Treaty Rights. Recent successes include exercising tribal sovereignty to fight a pipeline company that threatened to construct a pipeline through lands and waters adjacent to the reservation. Benjamin earned an M.A. in Education from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a B.A. in Finance from Bemidji State University. She is an outstanding ambassador and diplomat with other governmental bodies for all of Indian country and is devoted to the service of her people. A long-time board member of NIGA, Benjamin currently serves on many other boards including the American Indian Law Resource Center, Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Midwest Alliance of Sovereignty Tribes and the U.S. Attorney General's Tribal Nations Leadership Council. 

The awards will be presented to Brown and Benjamin at the annual Sovereignty Banquet and Concert on September 12, 2016.