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Unity and youth take front stage with NIGA

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. - The National Indian Gaming Association has a new chairman, Ernest Stevens Jr., Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin. But it wasn't Stevens' convention, it belonged to the youth and unity.

The NIGA annual convention and trade show put the youth in the spotlight as the future of Indian country with the theme "Saluting our Future Stars."

Convention keynote speaker Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, made a strong plea for unity among the tribes.

"At this point in time we have a unique opportunity to unite. The worst thing is to tear ourselves apart. NIGA is a useful organization and entity, but it doesn't speak for my tribe, we speak together," Macarro said.

He told the gathering of more than 2,500 delegates and members that is was an exciting time to be involved with gaming. For the Pechanga, he said gaming was a meaningful source of revenue for his tribe.

"It's breathtaking and awesome to reflect where we are at, to reflect on the power we have together and the power we have to create positive change," he said.

But as much as gaming has contributed to the well-being of some tribes across the nation, Macarro reminded the delegates that gaming was a means to an end. "If that's all it would be about it would be only the bottom line. There are other things about us that motivates us," he said.

While intertribal unity is extremely important, another and very important factor in tribal preservation is the revenue that can be used to affect the political climate of the state in which tribes are located. Macarro was instrumental in the work that led to the passage of two gaming bills favorable to gaming in the state of California.

He said that more than $88 million was spent by the tribes in educating the California voters, which had a positive influence on the outcome of the two propositions.

"If find it distasteful to talk about money and politics, it's not what the founders had in mind. But you have to play the game like your opponent does."

A possible negative could be to become your enemy and Macarro cautioned delegates not to cross that line. As an example, he said labor unions crossed the line many years ago and lost touch with the common people.

"Learn all you can about your enemy. Money is the gas that fuels the system and you have to get the ear of the policy makers. Money is the motivation, and the fear is that money will be used against you."

Tribal gaming has many enemies and they come from many different fields and disciplines that also cross the lines of politics and religion from state and local levels to the national Congress, he said.

It took money and determination to defeat one of the most hated senators in Congress, Slade Gorton of Washington state. Macarro warned, however, that someone will take his place as an Indian fighter, which makes unity and money all the more important.

The main issues motivating California tribes were to protect sovereignty, protect jobs, protect future options and he said to think about the next five to 10 years, protect fair process, protect tribal unity.

"Get everyone on the same page," he said.

To strengthen a tribal position and compete in the political arena the tribe and the people must first know who they are as a people and know the values, Macarro said. He added that tribal leaders must know what the mandate is and know when there is a chance of compromising the culture.

"Be clear on the mandate, be sure who you are, know what's going on around us."

As a reminder Macarro brought up California vs. Cabazon when the tribes thought they knew the rules of gaming only to have the rules changed with the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Macarro encouraged tribes to brief legislators on the economic data gaming generated and to find an economist to tabulate the economic impact tribal gaming has had in each region.

He told delegates to find out how the public really feels about gaming because, "they can sway an election. Economic development doesn't occur in a vacuum."

The NIGA, with Rick Hill as its chairman, in 1993 began the battle to educate Congress and the general public about tribal gaming. That year 49 of the 50 governors opposed tribal gaming, but after a series of meetings that year the tide began to change. That same year NIGA held its first seminar with 250 participants and also held a trade show in New Orleans with 79 exhibitors.

This year, 2001, there were more than 450 exhibitors with 279 vendors of gaming devices and support services and other equipment.

Since 1993, NIGA reports, the organization has contributed to litigation, congressional hearings and public information. Each year Congress either amends or attempts to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and participation of tribes through regional gaming organizations or through NIGA has resulted in meaningful dialogue with congressional leaders, NIGA officials said.

At the helm of NIGA with 196 member tribes is Executive Director Mark Van Norman, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who has held the position for less than a year. The first executive director was Tim Wapato, Colville. Van Norman will be joined by Stevens who now begins his travels across the country with the mandate from the 2001 convention to support future stars of Indian country and unifying the tribes, as Macarro said.

Another challenge for the organization will be to fight for Internet gaming, Hill said.

"We must be treated fairly on the Internet," Van Norman said.

The gaming industry in Indian country has contributed to jobs in regions, not only for tribal members but for the population at large. Van Norman said in North Dakota tribal gaming supports 3,000 people of which 80 percent are American Indian.

In New York, however, with different demograhics the percentages are different. Only 25 percent of the workforce is American Indian. However, there are 200,000 jobs on the East Coast offered to economies devastated by military base and manufacturing closures in past years, Van Norman said.

Van Norman and Stevens and the member tribes of NIGA will have to work on issues such as land into trust for gaming and the recognition process for future federally recognized tribes. In recent months congressmen have taken to the public forum with the issues of federal recognition and land into trust while they used Connecticut tribes as an example.

"There are always going to be Indian fighters, that's why there is a National Indian Gaming Association," Hill said.

Other important issues in the future will be to work for legal remedies for tribes to compact with states to offer Class III or Las Vegas-type gaming. A Secretarial Procedure, part of the IGRA, that will allow tribes to compact for Class III gaming if a state governor refuses to negotiate with the tribe in good faith is in litigation. Florida filed suit, claiming the secretary of Interior lacks authority to impose that compact.

"Again it's a double standard, we need to hold the state's feet to the fire," Hill said.

New Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton may hold the key to any future secretarial procedures should the litigation go the tribe's way, and meetings with Norton will be important and another job for NIGA, Van Norman and Hill said.

Gov. Alvino Lucero of the Isleta Pueblo set the tenor of the opening general session of the NIGA 2001 convention.

"I'm proud of all Indian country to stand up for what is right. Leaders throughout Indian country have a big job. We know as tribal leaders that we are faced with the needs of our people day in and day out and we have to protect Mother Earth, she keeps us all together. You all need to work together.

"I don't want to see Indian country split up. Reach out and give a hand to those who need help. United we can conquer, so hold together when you go home, we have a lot of needs.

"It's just the beginning. Bring up the children, they are the future leaders. We need to respect them, teach them from right and wrong. Someday they will be up here," Lucero said.