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NIGA Chairman Reflects on the 2013 State of the Union Address


National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. released the following statement following President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address:

President Obama's Speech is Relevant for Indian Country Regarding Business and Jobs Growth

On February 12, 2013, the President of the United States delivered his State of the Union Address in the House chambers with Congress, his cabinet and invited guests watching. Millions of Americans watched this speech and so did Indian country. I watched and I listened.

In his speech, which lasted about an hour on television, President Barack Obama provided a blueprint for a lasting American economy built on bringing manufacturing, domestic energy, early childhood development and he advocated launching new education partnerships with schools and colleges.

He stressed the responsibilities of the American middle class, fairness in wages and new job creation in an era of a recession. Hearing this is important for Indian country.

According to the Small Business Administration, there are about 1.5 million Native Americans working throughout urban, rural, reservation and village communities. Jobs created by Indian gaming provide over 600,000 for Indian and our non-Indian neighbors. The potential for growth is on our horizon as much as it is for the American middle class. Job creation and sustainability can occur in Indian country. And it is because of our brothers and sisters who have the drive to follow their dreams and open a business. Today, these business owners are sharing their entrepreneurial spirit with Indian Country.

However, we still need equal access to foster those ideas and understand exactly how a profitable business can work. As of January 2011, the SBA Emerging Leaders (e200) Initiative has produced 234 Native American graduates from 12 locations across Indian Country. And in 2009, Andrew Wells III, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwa Tribe, was awarded as Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year. These awards are becoming more prevalent for our community and I have a feeling I am going to meet a few of them at our March 24-17, 2013 NIGA Tradeshow in Phoenix at the American Indian Business Network.

One of these entrepreneurs you will meet at the AIBN reception is Jamie Fullmer of Bluestone Strategy. He is a former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation and believes that a clear vision guides the leadership essential to fueling strong Native communities now and into the future. The AIBN reception is where you can meet businesses that have gone beyond gaming, promoting economic development. These Native businesses are vital.

Obama reminded us there are no Americans fighting in Iraq, there has been important progress in Afghanistan, and new protections have been provided to the Libyan people. We are always grateful to our relatives and our fellow Americans who are serving in our armed forced. As of March 2012, the Pentagon reports 22,248 active-duty Native military members. That is important to remember and we thank them and the many other generations of warriors who have served this country proudly.

He championed the Senate in passing the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill on Tuesday, moving it now into the hands of the House of Representatives. What this will do is provide new protections for our Native women who are victims of domestic violence, and give more attention to sexual assault prevention and to help reduce the backlog in some cases. Further, under the Senate bill, tribal courts will be able to try non-Native American men accused of abusing Native American women on tribal lands. Currently, this is something that tribal courts currently lack jurisdiction to do. This is an issue of sovereignty, and our tribal governments should have the tools and authority to prosecute, try and punish offenders who commit violence against our Native women.

In Obama’s first term, the National Indian Gaming Association has been fortunate to work closely with his administration to get much accomplished in Indian country. Now, according to his State of the Union Address yesterday, his second term will focus on immigration, gun control, and the economy. He announced a pullout of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan and a call for an increase of the minimum wage for workers to $9 dollars.

As his plan unfolds, we will be there to affirm the rights of our Native people, promote the sovereignty of our Tribes, and strengthen Indian self-determination.