Gaming trade show focuses on successes

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National Indian Gaming Association promotes 'buy Indian, give back'

PHOENIX - Indian gaming had a record year of revenue in 2006 with tribes nationwide generating $25.7 billion in gross revenue and another $3.2 billion in related hospitality and entertainment services, a report that was celebrated by the National Indian Gaming Association.

NIGA hosted ''Indian Gaming '07'' at the association's 16th Annual Membership Meeting and Trade Show March 25 - 28 held at the Phoenix Convention Center. American Indian celebrities such as Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Billy Mills and Irene Bedard were in attendance supporting Indian gaming and endorsing their own initiatives to help promote success throughout Indian country.

''It's just a delight to be here with so many Indian people who have been successful,'' said former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, pointing out attendees and guests such as Mills, Oglala Lakota, and an Olympic gold medalist. ''We're not all successful, yet. And it seems like our goal as people who have managed to break through and move ahead - whether it's in entertainment or public office or business - should be to never forget our obligation to remember where we came from and that there are still people who need that help.''

The trade show ribbon cutting ceremony was hosted by NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Stevens, who is in his sixth year as chairman, announced during the convention that Indian gaming had been extremely successful during 2006.

''For many Native Americans, Indian gaming jobs represent some of the first opportunities for quality employment on the reservation,'' he said during his state of the industry address. ''As a result, we've seen thousands of our young people returning home to start their careers and build their lives.''

Stevens noted that the bulk of the revenue from Indian gaming goes towards paying salaries, benefits and employment taxes of the jobs created within the organizations. These jobs are filled by both Native and non-Native employees.

''When you think about it, we're at $25 billion, with more than 675,000 jobs,'' said former Sen. Tom Daschle. ''I can't think of another sector in the economy that can boast of that growth of income, the growth of success and the tremendous growth in hope that [Indian gaming] has given millions of people all over the country. It is evidence of the extraordinary success. And there is more to come.''

The '07 trade show, according to Stevens, was the largest show in the 22-year history of NIGA. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said the growth convention shows success for Indian country.

''In my opinion, NIGA is about success, through these conferences we are telling success stories in Native America,'' Shirley said.

He said NIGA is a means for American Indians to get back on their feet. And he pointed out that there are many Native businesses that are currently running independently.

''By getting back on our own feet, and also making a contribution, we're protecting our sovereignty, our way of life and our culture,'' Shirley said. ''Once upon a time, my elders told me that we were very independent and very proud. And then I was told that it was taken away from us. And now with NIGA and Indian gaming, we've gotten a lot of the independence back; we've gotten the pride back.''

Beach, a Canadian actor of Saulteaux decent, and Studi, a Cherokee actor, were also in attendance at the event. Beach announced to the audience that he signed a deal with the NBC hit TV show, ''Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.''

''You have people like Wes and I who are working our butts off trying to show the world that we are out there and giving a different perspective of who we are as Indian people,'' Beach said. ''And here you have this trade show that is also giving another perspective. And that perspective is that we are thriving. With us growing on a business level, we are also growing on a cultural level.''

Beach was a representative for Aruze gaming, a Japanese gaming company at the trade show. Beach said that he was proud to represent the company.

''They are here today and their traditions have always been to incorporate culture with businesses,'' he said. ''And here we are today to prove that; putting our culture together with business.''

Studi, who attended the conference to gain support for the Indigenous Language Institute, said he hopes that American Indian businesses that are doing well will be kind enough to give back to their communities, to help protect and honor their heritage and culture.

He summed up NIGA's message of success with saying, ''I have four words for you: 'Buy Indian, give back.'''

Former tribal leader honored with humanitarian award

The former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona was honored with the NIGA's Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award for his service to his community and his life-long advocacy to American Indian rights.

Ivan Makil, a nationally recognized leader in Indian country, was honored for his work with protecting the rights of his tribe. The award committee felt that Makil's work as a leader and defender of his community reflected the spirit of the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award.

Wendell Chino served for 43 years as the chairman of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico and is remembered for his leadership and humanitarianism. After his death, NIGA created the award, which carries his name. Makil's leadership role was vital between the fight with the state of Arizona and the Pima-Maricopa community for their rights to gaming in the 1990s.

''Ivan Makil has accomplished many things for his people, including leading the standoff with state troops over Indian gaming,'' said banquet co-host Studi.

Makil's family was in the audience during the banquet and he began the night by thanking them for their understanding and the strength that they give him.

''I want to thank all the tribal leaders and those of you who fight for our causes, because I know I am only one of many, and I thank you for this honor,'' Makil said. ''I am very humbled by it. I know that you all fight these battles as well. You take time away from your families, times that your family does need you, but Indian country needs you too, so you make that sacrifice.''

Makil said he recognizes how much leaders sacrifice when they are fighting for a cause.

He recognized all those that give up their family members so that they can come and fight those battles for Indian country. ''I say thank you, because you let us have those leaders to go fight those battles,'' he said.

Makil is a partner with Generation Seven Strategic Partners, LLC. With expertise in government affairs, business and economic development, the company serves as a conduit between tribal governments and non-tribal entities. Makil recently created a Native-owned venture capital fund to advance tribal economies and in partnership with Arizona State University, he developed an innovative training program for newly elected tribal leaders, according to a media release.

''All of the efforts we make is really about respect - I always tell my sons, that you don't need to be a millionaire or have a great job - what's important in Indian country is to be a good person, to respect other people and yourself,'' he said.

He said he tells his sons to respect people and to respect themselves.

''The respect and love that we share as Indian people is really the foundation that will create the success we have,'' he said. ''We need each other. The battle isn't over. There's still more [that needs to be done]. We need to fight together and if there is anything that I hope can come about from these type of events is the unifying of us as tribal people, as tribal nations, throughout this country.''

Makil has received numerous awards including ones from the National Congress of American Indian's Youth Leadership program, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and the National Indian Gaming Association. He was selected by Valley Leadership as Phoenix's Man of the Year and was named by the Phoenix Business Journal as one of the 100 most influential people in Arizona, according to a media release.

''We can be one of the most influential entities in this country, if we would just get together and do it,'' he said. ''It has been demonstrated so many times. The leadership is there and the wisdom is there and we need to call upon those elders to continue to support us.

''It's about time that we start amassing all those horses and fight the good fight that our ancestors always tell us we have to do.''