WASHINGTON – After years of unrest at the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has taken a step toward confirming Tracie L. Stevens as the new chairman of the agency.
At a May 26 hearing on Capitol Hill, several senators expressed support for Stevens, a member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state.
Many complimented her background. She has been the senior advisor to Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk at Interior since July. Before that, she spent almost 15 years working for her tribe in both government and business operations, often focusing on her tribe’s casino projects. She’s also served on multiple tribal gaming committees.
If confirmed, Stevens would oversee the quasi-independent federal agency, which oversees approximately 115 staffers nationwide and has a $16 million annual budget.
SCIA Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he intended to support her nomination, noting the agency has operated without a chairman for several years. At the same time, he questioned Stevens about her positions on some hot-button gaming issues, including Class III gaming and off-reservation gaming.
In both instances, Stevens said she understands there are varying concerns in those gaming areas, but she feels it is important to work with tribes to come up with positive solutions. She also noted that land into trust issues, which can impact off-reservation issues, are under the purview of Interior, so NIGC has little input on those decisions.
At one point, Dorgan also questioned Stevens’ experience, noting she is “not old,” “not a lawyer” and has worked for tribal gaming interests in the past.
Stevens answered with a laugh, saying she is “older than I look.” She also doesn’t believe one must be a lawyer to chair the NIGC and said her experience working in tribal gaming is an asset, not a hindrance.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also brought up the lawyer issue, noting Penny Coleman, the acting general counsel at the agency, is soon leaving her post.
Stevens responded that she will be committed to hiring a permanent, full-time general counsel, saying there are plenty of qualified individuals to fill the position. She also said she has “little patience” for inaction on important policy matters, and noted her background is not that of a bureaucrat.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., commended Stevens’ “practical, on-the-ground knowledge of this industry” and “proven leadership.” She gave her “highest recommendation” in support of her confirmation and said she believes Stevens will excel as chairman.
Cantwell said she believes Stevens will be able to successfully balance tribal sovereignty issues with federal law.
“I know she will bring a new and unique perspective to NIGC,” Cantwell said, adding she hopes Stevens will be able to move on from “distractions from the past” that have sometimes faced the agency.
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribe of Washington and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, spoke in support of Stevens at the hearing.
President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Stevens April 28; the full Senate will have to confirm her for her to take the job, which she would hold for a three-year term.