By: Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) joins the rest of the United States in honoring and recognizing the strength and perseverance of a prominent leader in the American civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King will forever be a national icon revered for his tremendous impact in the history and life of African Americans and all other minorities in this country. He was a man who had the vision to bring economic equality to his people and the Nation. He was instrumental in helping end racial segregation and racial discrimination through nonviolent means.
Today, forty years after his death, the words of Dr. King remain as relevant as they were years ago and now more than ever are deeply important to share as we commemorate this civil rights leader.
Dr. King fought for the equality of all Americans and that included the historical trauma inflicted on Native people by the United States of America. King said, "Our nation was born in genocide.... We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population." From slavery and other atrocities to racism and discrimination, both races have faced and persevered against enormous odds.
His innate desire to lead and bring about positive change for all people resonated throughout the country, but was met by some of those in the majority with fear and resentment. His many inspirational speeches brought about such excerpts such as "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" He challenged all people to reach within their heart and soul and decide if they were doing enough for all mankind.
Many of our great leaders in Indian country have also been empowered by the same persistent and urgent question Dr. King posed so many years ago. "What are you doing for others?" On this day, it is also important to remember the contributions from our Native American leaders who have provided a civil rights foundation based on equality and recognition of our sovereign rights as Tribal Governments.
Our own Native leaders like; Wilma Mankiller, Billy Frank, Jr., Dennis Banks, Elouise Cobell and Stanley Crooks all believed in the strength of our nations and our people to continue to survive in spite of the many attempts to divest us from our way of life, our culture and our traditions. They, like Martin Luther King, Jr., led by example and showed us how to forgive, how to embrace who we are, how to stand up for what is right and to believe in the goodness of all humankind.
Today we are still blessed to have leaders amongst us like LaDonna Harris, Susan Harjo, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Congressman Tom Cole who continue to encourage us, inspire us and motivate us to keep moving forward, while protecting our unique culture, identity and heritage. They embody the charisma and passion of Dr. King in that they continue to advocate for peace, respect and dignity for all people as we serve our communities and give back to others.
For more than twenty years, I have had the distinct honor of working with and visiting many of our tribal leaders both on the front lines in Washington, D.C., and most rewarding, in their communities. I have also worked diligently with many of our National and regional organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in our Nation's Capital. It is an amazing honor to have this kind of experience, because the one thing that remains the same, unity through respectful dialogue and communication is our strength. We are not discouraged by some of the challenges we face today because it is during these difficult times that we rely on the influences of our past leaders. If you analyze the dialogue of these leaders, you will see the strong pattern of unity, leadership, always working together and helping each other through the tough and turbulent times throughout our history. And when it is all said and done, it is not a coincidence that great leaders like Dr. King and so many of our Chiefs, Chairman and fellow respected leaders have the similar message of partnership and unity, always helping each other.
Kings works and words have bequeathed the importance of the continued work for our civil rights, to protect our freedom from the unwarranted infringements by the government, and to ensure the ability to prosper without discrimination or repression - simply put the importance of doing for others for generations to come. Let us all continue to live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ensure that we are all "doing for others" as we would have done for ourselves.