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Ernie Stevens, Jr.: Honor MLK and Native Civil Rights Leaders

The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) honors the strength and perseverance of our civil rights leaders, especially the unwavering strength and determination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This was a man who had a vision to bring economic equality to his people and to the Nation. He was instrumental in helping end racial segregation and racial discrimination through nonviolent means.

Through Reverend King's vision, we know that our people should be measured not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

It is also important to remember the contributions from our Native leaders who have provided a civil rights foundation based on equality and recognition of our sovereign rights;

Omaha tribal woman, Susan (Insta Theumba/Bright Eyes) LaFlesche, who fought extensively for Native American rights, and continued against incompetence and corruption of the government as well as against those laws that contributed to the dependency and demoralization of the Native American,

LaDonna Harris (Comanche) served on the National Indian Opportunities Council as President Lyndon B. Johnson's appointee and worked beside Robert Kennedy and Sargent Shriver. In 1970, she founded an organization dedicated to advocating for cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples. During the Carter administration, Harris was appointed as a special advisor to the Office of Economic Opportunity;

Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet) was a longtime champion of Indian rights. She dedicated the last sixteen years of her life to obtaining justice for Native Americans. She advocated that Native people should have more control over their lands and be able to pursue higher education;

John Salter (Micmac/St. Francis Abenaki) was very active in Jackson, Mississippi. He was in the trenches during the civil rights movement. On May 28, 1963, Black Tougaloo College students and John Salter began sit-ins at the whites-only lunch counter in downtown Jackson. They were beaten by bystanders and doused with ketchup, mustard, salt and sugar. He continues today to advocate for civil rights for all people of color;

I also include my parents and grandmother. They have always stood strong for Indian country because they too have fostered positive change. Like Dr. King, my mother was a strong advocate for her people and fought with resiliency and respectful activism. I stand on the shoulder's of my father. His work throughout Indian Country, in the urban communities and his fundamental contributions in Washington, D.C. have always kept me grounded and humble. The teachings of my grandmother, who at 101 years of age, is still sharing her lessons on activism and self determination.

These outstanding Native people have reminded us how important our civil and sovereign rights are. They continue to inspire us to build upon the foundation of trust, responsibly and freedom of our People.

Civil rights protect our freedom from unwarranted infringement by government, and ensure the ability to prosper without discrimination or repression. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with those listed above, have reminded us of those rights and from that, changed America forever. Today, we are a better nation and we embrace our unique diversity more than ever.

Let us live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. is the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.