Ernest L. Stevens, Jr.

Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association

In Native America, the National COVID-19 public health emergency has hit us hard.

American Indian and Alaska Native people died in connection with COVID-19 at nearly twice the rate of non-Indian people in a sample of 14 states, according to a new study published by the Centers For Disease Control.

For Indian nations and tribes, the loss of our elders is a family and community tragedy because tribal elders have unique knowledge of Native histories, traditions, ceremonies and languages. Yet, the greatest disparities in the COVID-19 mortality rate are among parents and grandparents ages 20—49 years-old. COVID-19 is striking at the heart of our young Native American communities.

Nationwide, more than 28.5 million people have contracted the virus and more than 515,000 people have died from COVID-19. In the past week alone, after falling during early February, the United States experienced a 7 percent rise in COVID-19 deaths. Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel—23 million Americans have been vaccinated. We have a way to go and the CDC has advised us to continue to protect our tribal communities.

In these difficult times of this national COVID-19 public health emergency, Indian nations and tribes have acted to protect our tribal members, employees, patrons and our neighbors by closing our tribal government gaming facilities, when necessary.

To protect ourselves and our neighbors, we limit the capacity of our casino, hospitality, and entertainment venues, while reducing the number of visitors, requiring masks, promoting social distancing, hand sanitization, and deep cleaning.

Through Indian gaming, Indian tribes have created more than 780,000 jobs. Pre-pandemic, Indian gaming generated $35 billion in gross revenue. Taking into account our primary and secondary economic effects, Indian gaming generates $14 billion in federal government revenue, $12 billion in state and local revenue, and $200 million through charitable outreach.

As a result of the pandemic, Indian gaming and related tribal businesses are incurring annual losses of up to $25 billion in lost revenues. Despite these losses, our tribal enterprises and reservation economic activities continue to finance essential tribal government services. These economic numbers impact much of our health care, police, fire and safety, and other services both within and without our reservation boundaries.

Due to the pandemic economic crisis, tribal governments have curtailed some tribal government services.

At the National Indian Gaming Association, we have prioritized state, local and tribal government coronavirus relief funding. Along with our sister organization, the National Congress of American Indians, we were the first to advocate for $20 billion in federal aid to provide essential tribal government services and save our tribal economies from ruin.

The House COVID-19 rescue plan includes $350 billion for state, local and tribal government coronavirus relief.

The tribal portion of the coronavirus relief fund addresses:

· The national COVID-19 public health emergency on Indian reservations and negative impacts of the emergency;

· Lost, delayed and decreased tribal government revenues;

· Expenses of the COVID-19 crisis; and

· Long-term economic impacts of the pandemic.

We think it is very important for these funds to be available to address the disastrous revenue losses and business disruptions that Indian nations and tribes have suffered as well as the underlying conditions that make our Native peoples more susceptible to the pandemic: chronic unemployment, economic distress, limited health care, poor educational opportunities and sub-standard housing.

Respect for tribal sovereignty is essential. Tribal governments are the governing bodies of Indian nations and tribes. In light of the federal trust and treaty relationship with Indian nations and tribes, the United States should adhere to the legal principle that Indian nations and tribes are prior sovereigns with original, inherent authority over tribal citizens and tribal territory. 584 Indian Tribes are listed in the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act. 25 U.S.C. sec. 5130—31.

Across Indian Country, we must all join hands to promote the enactment of the $20 billion tribal government coronavirus relief funding.

We look forward to working with all Indian nations and members of Congress to secure the enactment of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American rescue plan.

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., is the Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.

The National Indian Gaming Association, with 184 Member Tribes, represents Indian nations engaged in gaming to generate essential tribal government revenues, and our mission is to support Indian gaming and defend Indian sovereignty.