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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today 

More than 4,000 attendees from Canada and the U.S. are taking part in the 35th annual Reservation Economic Summit in-person in Las Vegas and virtually. Concurrently, the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention is taking place.

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and the National Indian Gaming Association partnered together, along with the American Indigenous Business Leaders, to provide more opportunities for attendees.

Tribal leaders, members of Congress, federal agency representatives, state and local elected officials and top CEOs are part of the people at the events. Last year, the pandemic shut down in-person conferences and some continued virtually. This year, RES, known as one of the largest conferences geared towards Native people, and other conferences are back.

Indian Country Today is reporting from both conferences this week.

Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, said, “Through resiliency and reinvention, we will bring together leaders from across Indian Country for a unique opportunity to uplift Native-owned businesses.”

Mark Trahant interviews Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center of American Indian Enterprise Development, July 2021. (Photo by Aliyah Chavez, Indian Country Today)

He said that he’s most excited to be there in person and finally meet people that he met online.

“Seeing the businesses, seeing the people, seeing my friends I’ve known for decades--that’s going to be some of the excitement,” James said.

Networking, connecting opportunities and utilizing over a hundred of business development sessions is what’s offered at the summit. The largest Native American Business trade show is also part of the event and more than 30 artisan booths at their Indian artisan market.

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One attendee, Daune Cardenas, told Indian Country Today that she was eager to go back to the conference and learn from the sessions since she helps take care of business for her Pascua Yaqui tribe.

“The networking is great. I love that. I don’t get time in my job to do that anymore,” she said.

Others like Georgette Running Eagle, Shoshone-Bannock, are a bit cautious about the new COVID-19 variants but she plans on following protocol and wearing a mask.

She is the owner of a small business in Idaho that sells powwow supplies and says she’s also looking forward to networking.

The conference’s COVID-19 mask mandate is that masks are optional if you’re fully vaccinated, but it’s recommended to wear them in close proximity to others. 

Mark Trahant interviews Ernie Stevens, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, July 18, 2021. (Photo by Aliyah Chavez, Indian Country Today)

Meanwhile, Ernie Stevens, the chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association, said there’s a range of emotions from their members and attendees. But it’s a thrilling time that they’re ready to tackle like meeting everyone safely.

“I’m excited about us seeing the leadership, and I’m nervous too, really I mean we’ve been doing this all the time for years,” he said.

Stevens added that the trade show and convention for the National Indian Gaming Association is nothing new and it’s where they were pre-pandemic.

“We’re here, we’re on the frontline, we’re ready to go to work,” he said. “And guess what, Las Vegas, Indians love Las Vegas. We’re all over the place here.”

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