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NIGA Seeks Nominees for Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award

The National Indian Gaming Association has put out a call for nominations for the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award. The award will be presented to the recipient during a banquet at NIGA’s annual Indian Gaming Trade Show & Convention April 1-4 at the San Diego Convention Center.

The Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award was established 14 years ago and is NIGA’s most prestigious award. It is named in honor of the late iconic, nationally-recognized Mescalero Apache leader who was an unflagging advocate for Indian sovereignty and 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 it. Chino was instrumental in establishing one of the earliest Indian casinos in 1975 by asserting that the state of New Mexico could not outlaw gaming on sovereign tribal land.

Born in 1924—the year that Congress gave American citizenship to all indigenous peoples on Turtle Island—Chino was a leader from the age of 28 when he was elected chairman of the Mescalero Apache’s tribal governing committee. He was reelected every two years until 1965 when he was elected the first president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. He served in that capacity for 16 consecutive terms.

Over the course of his leadership Chino led his tribe on a rags-to-riches journey not only by establishing a casino, but also by shifting control of the tribe’s resources from outside forces to the tribe. When Bureau of Indian Affairs-controlled contracts for everything from mining to timber to grazing contracts on the Mescalero reservation came up for renewal in the mid-1960’s, Chino allowed them to lapse and then created companies to develop the resources that were under the tribe’s control. Under his guidance and philosophy of what he called “red capitalism,” the Mescalero Apache Nation built a ski resort, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a casino, a timber mill and a metal fabrication plant, as well as Indian schools, a hospital and a health centre. During a 1977 court case involving control of Mescalero natural resources, Chino stated, "The white man has raped this land and now he wastes six million acres of Indian land use in this state."

Altogether Chino led his nation for more than 43 years until his death in 1998 at the age of 74. “He took stances that affected Indians not only on his reservation, but all over the country,'' said Roy Bernal, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council and a member of the Taos Pueblo nation in Chino’s obituary in the The New York Times. "In the scheme of the 20th century, it has been said that Wendell Chino was a Martin Luther King or a Malcolm X of Indian Country. He was truly a modern warrior.''

NIGA’s Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award is given to tribal leaders whose actions have improved the lives of citizens in Indian country. Recent awardees include Gov. William R. Rhodes of the Gila River Indian Community; Gov. Bill Governor Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation; and President Dr. Clinton Patteo of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.

“The protection of Indian sovereignty has been our primary responsibility and something that past leaders embraced and made our foundation,” NIGA said in its announcement calling for nominations. “Following that tradition, NIGA has recognized Indian leaders for their commitment to the protection of Indian sovereignty and their leadership in Indian country. We honor these people with the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award. Is there someone in your community who echoes these efforts and passion? Please nominate someone from your community!”

The deadline to submit nominations is February 3rd, 2012. Nomination forms are available online by clicking here. For more information contact Angelica Molina at