Former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle received the National Indian Gaming Association 2013  Chairman’s Leadership Award at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in Phoenix March 25. (Michael Woestehoff, Courtesy National Indian Gaming Association)

Former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle received the National Indian Gaming Association 2013 Chairman’s Leadership Award at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in Phoenix March 25. (Michael Woestehoff, Courtesy National Indian Gaming Association)

NIGA’s 28th Annual Tradeshow and Convention Kicks Off with Golf, Speeches and Awards

Former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle Receives 2013 Chairman’s Leadership Award

A laid-back day of fund-raising golf tournaments and a festive Chairman’s Welcome Reception officially kicked off the National Indian Gaming Associations 28th Annual Tradeshow and Convention on Sunday, March 24. But it was high intensity, high energy information-packed business the next day when the meeting rooms opened.

The National Indian Gaming Association’s (NIGA) annual event takes place this year in the “Valley of the Sun”—Phoenix, Arizona—at the Phoenix Convention Center from March 24-28. Every day is packed with general membership meetings, regional caucuses, special presentations, training sessions, workshops, cultural events, luncheons, receptions and more. This year's event attracted more than 5,000 attendees from 10 countries.

Sunday’s golf tournaments took place at the Yavapai Nation’s Fort McDowell Resort and Casino, which has two championship 18-hole golf courses with a 10,000-square-foot desert-themed clubhouse. Proceeds from the charitable tournaments will benefit the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation, an entity founded by the National Indian Gaming Association to reward the educational goals of exceptional Native-American students since 2000.

The Chairman’s Welcome Reception took place at Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino and featured a blast from the past music of Creedence Clearwater Revisited. "This is going to be one of the most exciting Tradeshow weeks we've had in quite some time. So many of our tribal leaders and Native-business leaders are here with us, along with our many Indian gaming professionals," Chairman Ernie Stevens said in his opening remarks. "We're looking forward to all of our events like our membership meeting, the culture night, and our casino department roundtables and certifications. Of course we will have another fantastic tradeshow offering the best in technology and talent."

Monday morning’s annual membership meeting opened with the posting of colors by the Ft. McDowell Yavapai and an opening prayer.

An energizing welcoming speech on the theme of unity was given by Diane Enos, the chairwoman of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Community, one of the O’odham tribes of southern Arizona. “Where you are sitting no doubt people lived and walked, loved, raised their families, died, celebrated, fought with each other.  Our nation was built upon the ability to bring irrigation here to the desert valley. We worked with other tribes and had significant trade routes from here to the Pacific and Mexico and even to the middle of America.  We like your tribes across the country had to work collectively and collaboratively on a basis of trust in order to survive the severe heat of this climate. We had wars with each other to be sure, like everybody else. . .but we have come past that today to where we sit down together and work together towards the betterment of all tribes, towards the betterment of our people.” She commended the Ft. McDowell Yavapai for standing up to state and federal officials who tried to shut down Indian gaming in Arizona in the early 1990s. That battle led the Arizona tribes to get together and “put our war clubs aside and hammer out an agreement” to secure Indian gaming rights in the state.

Stevens and NIGA Executive Director Jason Giles spoke about the state of the Indian gaming industry, other NIGA officers gave their annual reports. Jefferson Keel, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, updated the membership on the activities of that organization and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan from New Mexico's 3rd District also address the audience.

The morning’s business ended with a luncheon where Stevens presented former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle with NIGA’s 2013 Chairman’s Leadership Award. “This is a man who understands what is good for Indian country, is good for all of us,” Chairman Stevens said. “Governor Doyle worked with tribes sign compacts that respected tribal sovereignty and the federal Indian Trust Responsibility, we need more leaders who want to build bridges with Indian country, and we respect what he accomplished for the State of Wisconsin.”

Doyle has a long history of working with and supporting tribal governments in Wisconsin and understanding tribal sovereignty and self-determination. In 2005, he signed an executive order affirming the government-to-government relationship between Wisconsin and Indian tribal governments within the state of Wisconsin, which created and defined the processes by which the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration work in collaboration with the state’s 11 sovereign Indian Nations.

This agreement, and many others worked on by Governor Doyle, acknowledged and supported American Indian sovereignty through the government-to-government relationship among the Indian Nations within the boundaries of Wisconsin, the State of Wisconsin agencies, and Federal Agencies. He continued to do this throughout his two terms.

“There is so much more at stake here, I am very proud for what we have and accomplished together, a system of consultation that required every one of my cabinet members to visit every single reservation annually, passed Indian child welfare legislation, and moved on environmental issues,” Doyle said. “All of this produced much better results. I congratulate all of the tribes who fought to protect their sovereign rights.” 

Stevens called dozens of tribal leaders and citizens to the stage and presente Doyle with a blanket and other gifts.

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