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NIGA honors Fort McDowell Yavapai leader

PHOENIX – Not many contemporary tribal leaders can say they stood their ground against the FBI and federal marshals and won.

Clinton Pattea can.

Pattea, president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, will be presented the Wendell Chino Award at the National Indian Gaming Association’s 2009 Indian Gaming Trade Show & Convention, not only for resisting an FBI raid on his tribe’s casino in 1992, but to his 40-plus years of leadership to his tribe and in Indian country.

Pattea will be honored at the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award Banquet April 15. The banquet is one of the highlights of the NIGA convention.

The award honors tribal leaders who have worked for the betterment of Native peoples.

Chino, the late Mescalero Apache leader known as the father of Indian casinos and “red capitalism,” is a modern Indian hero of epic proportions. At the age of 28, he was elected chairman of his tribe’s governing committee and led the tribe for 43 years. He was an unflagging advocate for Indian self-determination and one of the strongest voices for American Indian rights during the 1960s, and beyond. He insisted on his tribe’s right to conduct gaming on its sovereign territory and defied state law to do so. He died in 1998 at the age of 74.

Pattea, who has led his tribe for more than 44 years, said receiving the award has special significance because Chino was his mentor.

“I’m very proud to get it, especially because I knew Wendell Chino way back when I was a young man. He was very definitely a role model for me. I always enjoyed working with him and listening to him and I’m very proud to be part of him now.”

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. announced in February that Pattea would be this year’s Chino award recipient at a gaming conference in Arizona.

“It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Stevens said, addressing Pattea directly. “Your years of service to Indian country are well-documented. The Wendell Chino Award is one of the highest ranking awards in Indian country and we are very excited to honor you.”

The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation is a 950-member tribe whose lands are in central Arizona’s upper Sonora Desert. The tribe once roamed over 12 million acres, but now owns 24,000 acres in northeastern Maricopa County, 35 miles from Phoenix. The Fort McDowell Nation is one three Yavapai tribes in Arizona who have lived in the area for thousands of years.

Fort McDowell members have built a strong, stable community and economy, but it wasn’t always easy, Pattea said.

“One of the biggest challenges was we didn’t have much in the area of resources, even though we had land and water. We had a difficult time trying to raise capital to make use of our land. That was a big challenge. However, we worked at it through the BIA and other federal agencies to obtain funding to develop our farm land and make use of our water.”

In addition to the farm, the tribe now has a number of enterprises, including an RV resort, a company that produces ready-mix concrete and other construction materials, a gas station, a resort hotel and conference center, a golf club and casino.

Pattea is considered a driving force behind his nation’s success in Indian gaming, but the success did not come without struggle. And that, he says, is a point of pride for the tribe.

“We were raided by the federal government in 1993. Six casinos in Arizona were raided by the FBI and the U.S. Marshall and they confiscated all of their equipment. However, when it came to our turn, we blockaded the road and asked that the governor come and negotiate with us. We did that and we were able to get a compact started. We feel that’s one of our better accomplishments as the tribal council because a lot of our people were involved in that, to blockade the road and get the governor to come here, and we got the compact and that opened the door not only for our tribe, but all the other tribes in the state.”

Ned Norris, chairman of the Tohono O’odham Tribe and the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, said the Wendell Chino Award was “a great way to acknowledge President Pattea for his many years of service to his Fort McDowell Nation. He is a man of sound judgment, experience, and is someone that we look up to and revere as a true leader to his people.”

Pattea was nominated for the award by Bernardino Burnette, vice president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, and was selected by the NIGA executive board in a vote.

Previous recipients include Robert Salgado, chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, and Ivan Makil, former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.