NIGA Trade Show: Preparing Tribal Leaders for the Year

The 27th Annual National Indian Gaming Association Convention and Tradeshow provided yet another great learning venue for tribal leaders. This year, tribal leaders, representatives and gaming industry experts converged in the San Diego Convention Center to dialogue about the most important topics facing the Indian gaming industry and Indian country, and to discuss strategy to pave the path ahead.

Once again, the discussions were diverse, ranging from gaming to health care to politics and much more. During our tribal membership meetings, we zoom in and focus on Indian gaming issues to find prospective solutions and answers to challenges facing our industry. For Indian country, anything impacting tribal sovereignty and self-determination are causes for concern and a call to action.

One of the issues many reservations face is environmental destruction and the struggles of tribal governments to clean and restore our lands. With complete disregard for tribal homelands and the trust obligation, the federal and state governments authorized—and continue to authorize—corporations, mining companies and other business entities to poison tribal or nearby lands. They wreak their destruction, take the profits and leave damage for the residents of Indian country. To address this important topic, the first day of the convention saw Quinault Chairwoman Fawn Sharp sharing her tribe’s efforts for sustainability in the timber industry. The Quinault Tribe utilized strong communication with other indigenous peoples who are affected, particularly those in South America.

NIGA’s membership also heard from Loretta Tuell, the staff director and chief counsel to Chairman Daniel Akaka of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Tuell provided our member tribes with an overview of federal legislation that will have an impact on Indian country in 2012. Currently, there are 36 bills that have been referred to the committee. To advance the legislation, the committee has held 22 oversight hearings, six legislative hearings, four field hearings and five business meetings. In addition, the committee has held 10 roundtables to discuss diverse topics, ranging from fish and wildlife protection to taxation.

Chairman Steve Cadue of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas gave an impassioned speech about the ravaging of Indian country by diabetes. Cadue’s wife recently passed from complications due to diabetes. He dealt with his grief by founding an organization that directly addresses diabetes in Indian country. NIGA was humbled to provide Cadue an opening showcase.

The third and final day of NIGA’s convention magnified the issue of Internet gaming and its possible impact on our industry.

NIGA, in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), hosted a NIGA-NCAI taskforce meeting, which reiterated our commitment to a unified approach in addressing the Internet gaming issue. Both organizations have standing resolutions that call on Congress to respect the principles of tribal sovereignty, against taxation of tribal government revenue, protecting of tribal rights under IGRA and existing tribal gaming compacts, and designating the National Indian Gaming Commission as the federal agency with tribal jurisdiction on any Internet gaming regulation that moves through the legislature.

Tribal leaders gather at the Chairman’s Leadership Award luncheon.
Tribal leaders gather at the Chairman’s Leadership Award luncheon.
NIGA also hosted an Internet gaming forum, which invited tribal leaders to speak in conversation with congressional representatives to receive information and hear feedback straight from Indian country.

The forum removed the formalities of Washington, D.C., and provided an open atmosphere to spark this most important conversation. The work conducted at this meeting laid the foundation for an understanding between Congress, states, and most importantly, Indian country’s leadership.

Tribes have worked for 24 years under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to rebuild our communities and strive for economic self-sufficiency. Internet gaming has the potential to cut into these, and the stakes could not be higher. Having a seat at the table is not enough—tribal governments must ensure that our existing rights and our industry are protected.

Congressional representatives from California—Mary Bono Mack, Brian Bilbray, Jeff Denham and Darrel Issa—joined Betty McCollum, a representative from Minnesota, and provided their perspectives on the topic and listened to tribal concerns. Tribal leaders voiced the concerns from their tribes and potential opportunities regarding Internet gaming. Many urged the congressional leaders in attendance to take the tribal principles of sovereignty and self-regulation back to Washington, D.C., and work with their colleagues to include these provisions before moving forward.

Several tribes mentioned that in light of the December 2011 Department of Justice decision, their respective state governments were moving to legalize Internet sales of lottery tickets and other forms of gaming. The congressional delegation urged tribal governments to communicate their principles and work with states on a government-to-government basis.

In addition, congressional members urged tribes to continue to educate Congress on the success of Indian gaming and how it has positively impacted Indian communities. Potentially, there could be more than 100 new members of Congress and the Senate on Nov. 6, all of whom will have limited knowledge of Indian gaming, let alone Internet gaming.

The 2012 trade show was a historic event. It was the first congressional listening session in this setting, and tribal leaders have requested us to host similar forums in the future. NIGA pledges to work with tribal leaders to conduct these general listening sessions in the near future.

NIGA’s next membership meeting will take place Sept. 18-19 at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. However, the NIGA Internet and Economic Development Subcommittee will continue to meet throughout the spring and summer.

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