Pawnee, Oklahoma - National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., joined the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma Kansas and Texas (UINOKT) at their Quarterly Meeting on Monday, January 30, 2017 at the Pawnee Nation Wellness Center in Pawnee, Oklahoma.
Chairman Stevens joined the UINOKT meeting as the keynote speaker to provide a National update - the future of Indian Gaming under a new administration, to the more than 100 people in attendance, which included tribal leadership and tribal, state and local representatives from the three states which make up UINOKT.
Stevens spoke about the change in administration. He told the crowd that the National Indian Gaming Association has been busy since the elections to work with a transition to the new Trump-Pence Administration. He said, "We have engaged in discussions with Markwayne Mullin, Chairman of President Trumps Native American Coalition and Representative Tom Cole (R-OK 4th Dist.) since shortly after the elections and continue to do so."
He said that included participation in a post-election meeting with NCAI, Invitations to new members of Congress to the NIGA Headquarters at the end of November, the development of the NIGA one-hundred-day action plan, White House Congressional Transition plan, engaging with new members of Congress on discussions centered on Economic Development, testifying at two of the Native American Coalition Listening Sessions and along with tribal leadership, Stevens visited with the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, at the National Museum of the American Indian (NAMI) Veterans Ball in Washington, D.C.
Stevens said, "We have a whole new political atmosphere we are facing with a new Administration and new Congress, and we must be ready to deal with it head on. We will need to educate, talk, meet and hold our ground in protecting Tribal Sovereignty now more than ever." He reminded the group that the change in administrations is nothing new to Indian country. "Tribes have been here before, we have taken on the challenge, we have educated new leadership, we have established solid working relationships and have managed to relay our Indian country message."
He acknowledged that it has been some time since he has had to work with a Republican majority, he is confident that Indian country is ready to take the task head on. He said, "I think we are off to a great start, and yes, there are some challenges, but we can only look forward." He added, "It is important that our tribal leadership remain pro-active because it is about strengthening our Indian country economies. I urge all of Indian country to assist in continuing to carry our message and assist in educating this new Congress and administration."
Chairman Stevens touched on the importance of bi-partisanship. "I made it clear to all during the campaign that NIGA is a bi-partisan organization and has a long history of working both sides of the aisle. Our message is not on a specific side of the aisle; it is about advancing Indian country." Stevens told the crowd that he attended both political party National Conventions "to protect our standing and to further our good relations with our greatest champions who come from both sides."
He continued, "We had an incredible last eight years with the Obama administration, and we got a lot of work done. It is important that we continue to build upon this product with the new administration." Stevens also reminded the audience that history has shown that a lot has also been accomplished on behalf of Indian country with various presidential administrations, he noted as an example the accomplishments made on behalf of Indian country during the President Richard Nixon administration, where Steven's father, Ernie Stevens, Sr., served. He recalled, "despite the ups and downs, there was a lot done for Indian Country."
Stevens then spoke about the importance of educating all about Indian country. He talked about recent publications that were receiving high visibility that instilled a negative and false portrayal of Indian country. That included, 'The Whistler,' a novel written by fictional novelist John Grisham where a backdrop of his book is the operation of an Indian Casino. In a recent interview on CBS This Morning while promoting the book, Grisham made some false statements about the integrity of the Indian gaming industry. Stevens said, "While this book is based on fiction, Grisham does not even realize that his comments could affect hundreds of thousands of jobs and the integrity of our Gaming Operations, which we have strived so hard to protect over the past 40 years and we take that seriously, and we let him know."
Stevens also made reference to the 'New Trail of Tears,' which is a piece on tribal sovereignty and tribal government self-determination. It supports Allotment (and privatizing Indian lands, attacks) the Indian Reorganization Act, supports the repeal of Indian Child Welfare Act and mocks Indian gaming as a means of taking from Indians to give to tribal governments. It opposes federal policies designed to uphold the federal government's treaty and trust obligations to Indian Country. And finally, the book 'Wampum: How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire.' This publication falsely projects the Indian gaming industry as being influenced by the mafia and misrepresents our industry as a whole.
Chairman Stevens said, "Our education efforts are never done. We need to step up our advocacy to another level because educating is the key. The best stories should come from those who live it, and that is the tribal leadership who diligently represent their communities. They can provide the accurate accounts. They are the greatest voices to educate the truth."
Chairman Stevens closed his keynote address by recognized several of the Indian country leadership in attendance. He presented NIGA eagle staff medallions to George Tiger, former Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, as well as W. Bruce Pratt, President of the Pawnee Nation, and UINKOT treasurer; Margo Gray, UINKOT board secretary and Edwina Butler, Chairwoman of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Vice Chairperson of the UINOKT for their unwavering efforts in supporting Tribal Sovereignty and the Indian Gaming industry. Stevens said, "It was such an honor to be able to sit and visit with the leaders in the heart of Indian country.