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NIGA honors New Mexico tribal leader with John Kieffer Sovereignty Award

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ISLETA PUEBLO, N.M. – The National Indian Gaming Association presented the 2008 John Kieffer Sovereignty Award to National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia at the 2008 NIGA mid-year meetings Oct. 1, held at the Isleta Casino and Resort near Albuquerque.

“It is with the greatest respect that we give this award to a brother, friend, colleague and advocate for Indian people – President Joe Garcia,” said NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. “President Garcia is a warrior for our sovereign rights and has dedicated his life of service to his people and is a distinguished leader, not only here in New Mexico, but in Washington, D.C.

“President Joe Garcia is one of the best examples of true leadership. It is his strong commitment to advocating on behalf of the interest of Indian country, working hard as not only a tribal leader, but a voice for Indian issues that makes him a perfect choice for this leadership award.”

NCAI is the largest Indian organization, representing more than 250 member tribal nations from throughout the United States. Garcia has been actively involved in NCAI since 1995, serving two two-year terms as the first vice president prior to being elected president in November 2005. He recently completed his third term as governor of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico. After his term as governor, he was elected chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, an organization that was formed in 1598 and serves the 19 pueblos of New Mexico. He will serve as chairman until 2011.

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The award is named in honor of John Kieffer, a member of the Spokane tribe. He was a selfless and dedicated member of the NIGA Executive Committee from 1993 until his untimely death in 1999. Kieffer was instrumental in the development of the modern NIGA structure and dedicated himself to the protection of Indian sovereign rights. In his memory, NIGA chooses honorees dedicated to the organization’s mission and purpose.

Upon receiving the award, Garcia said, “I am truly honored and I accept this award with due respect, not for just one person, but on behalf of all of the people we represent, and in the spirit of John Kieffer.

“My service to Indian country is driven by the historical plights of those leaders before me who have fought with the power, energy and spirit that has made Indian country so strong.

“As I stand here tonight at Isleta Pueblo, on the same grounds of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, I say to you all, we must not forget what we stand for on behalf of Indian country, our culture, language and tradition. It is the core of our way of life. If we forget about what we stand for, then we become part of dominate society. We must continue to challenge ourselves, rise up together and continue to fight on behalf of our Indian people.”

Past NIGA recipients of the John Keiffer Sovereignty Award are Chairman John James of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians; Kurt Blue Dog of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Tracy Burris of the Chickasaw Nation; Chairman Mark Brown of the Mohegan Tribe; Vice Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; Anthony R. Pico, former chairman of the Viejas Band of Mission Indians; Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association; Charles Colombe of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe; Thelma Thomas of the Santee Sioux Tribe; Chairman Maurice Lyons of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians; and NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr.