PASADENA, Calif. – The American Heritage Dictionary defines a warrior as “one who is engaged in or experienced in battle.” Even though American Indians no longer flock to battles on horseback to protect their sacred lands, the warrior spirit prevails within individuals who are willing to stand up for Native causes on all levels in the contemporary world.
In honor of those who embody the warrior spirit by advocating for Native-owned businesses, more than 300 people gathered for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California Native American Heritage Month Luncheon and Warrior Awards presentations at the Twin Palms Restaurant Nov. 8.
It was an unseasonably warm and muggy day at the elegant outdoor affair. But the weather didn’t discourage chamber members from networking with each other and enjoying the nearly three-hour event. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians owns the swanky restaurant, located in the heart of old-town Pasadena.
Since 2000, the chamber has honored a Native corporation and individual with the Warrior Award.
On the corporate level, Milton “Charlie” Brown, tribal enterprise business development officer for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, accepted the award on behalf of Viejas Enterprises. Brown said the chamber recognized Viejas for its utilization and support of Native-owned businesses.
“We’re always interested in what [Native businesses] have to offer and we’re very honored to have received this award,” he said.
Viejas Enterprises, based in San Diego County, consists of the Viejas Casino, Viejas Outlet Center, Viejas Entertainment, Borrego Springs Bank, three radio stations, two RV parks, and two partnerships that have developed hotels in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.
Brown, a lifetime resident of Alpine, has worked for the tribe since January 2004. He also serves on the finance, economic, senior and fire department committees. And as a member of the Viejas lobbyist group, he tackles issues that affect Natives on a local, state and federal level.
“I was fireman for 30 years, and now I work harder than I ever have before,” he said.
The individual award went to Audrey Martinez, treasurer of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, for her contribution to an array of tribal committees and dedication to the community of Highland, where she’s resided her entire life and the location of the tribe’s flourishing casino.
Martinez, a mother of three and grandmother of seven, serves as the tribe’s official representative for the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Gaming Association, Indian Child and Family Services, the National Indian Welfare Association and the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations.
“Receiving this award shows me that all of the hard work that you do just doesn’t go by the wayside,” she said.
“It’s the support of my family that keeps me going.”
Chamber President Tracy Stanhoff, Potawatomi/Choctaw, said the board takes the suggestions of past Warrior Award recipients when selecting winners. She added that San Manuel was the first tribe to join the chamber and has remained active since its induction more than eight years ago.
“It’s really wonderful to have support from Indian gaming corporations,” she said.
The chamber formed 11 years ago and has more than 200 members throughout California, including 20 Indian tribes.
Notwithstanding, the chamber recognized this year’s scholarship recipients. The $10,000 in funds was divided among six students. One student was awarded $2,500 and five students were each awarded $1,500.
Two of the $1,500 recipients were present at the awards ceremony.
Dallin Maybee, Northern Arapaho/Seneca, a master’s student at the University of California, Los Angeles’ American Indian Studies Center, is focusing on Indian law. He hopes to channel his Indian law studies into action by entering the university’s law school, where he’ll focus on sovereignty and economic law issues.
“A lot of different tribes are fighting an uphill battle,” Maybee said, referring to why he’s passionate about studying law.
Maybee, 32, spoke humbly of his scholarship award, but outside of his studies he’s an intertribal and Hoop dancer who has traveled with dance ensembles across the globe. For the past four years he’s toured with the American Indian Dance Theater. Performances include the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts and two Public Broadcasting Service specials.
Leanne Tortez, Kumeyaay, also present, is a student at the University of California, Riverside.