This year, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) is celebrating more than 25 years of rebuilding Indian communities through Indian self-reliance. During that time, the protection of Indian sovereignty has been our primary responsibility and something that past leaders embraced and made our foundation. Following that tradition, NIGA has recognized Indian leaders for their commitment to the protection of Indian sovereignty and their leadership in Indian country.
More than 12 years ago, we began the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award. Wendell Chino (1923-1998) was the former Mescalero Apache tribal chairman whose unwavering commitment and dedication to his people spanned over four decades. Chino was elected chairman of his nation at the age of 28 and held that position until 1965. Chino was then elected the first president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe and was re-elected for 16 consecutive terms until his death in 1998. In total, he served as leader of the Mescalero Apache Tribe for more than 43 years.
The National Indian Gaming Association wanted to recognize his tireless efforts and provide a reminder for Indian country of one of the most determined leaders in recent history, so the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award Banquet was created in 1998. NIGA and Indian country will always recognize Chino’s leadership and his unprecedented efforts in the early 1980s to bring gaming to his nation. He ended up bringing much more than a casino to Mescalero Apache. Through his vision and leadership, the Mescalero Apache tribe built upon the small but successful Inn of the Mountain Gods resort to a premier 250-room resort, casino and convention center that features an award-winning 100-acre championship golf course built upon the beauty of the breathtaking Mescalero Apache land in New Mexico.
I am happy to announce the 2010 Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award recipient, Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Anoatubby will receive the award Thursday, April 8, 2010, at the 2010 Indian Gaming Trade Show and Convention at the San Diego Convention Center. NIGA and its member tribes commend Gov. Anoatubby for his many years of dedicated service to the Chickasaw Nation.
In 1975, Anoatubby began working for the Chickasaw Nation as health director at the ripe age of 29. He helped the tribe implement an administrative system that encompassed accounting, personnel and procurement when the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was passed. His next step up the tribal ladder was to become director of finance for the Chickasaw Nation. As an accountant, Anoatubby was in his element and established accounting processes that helped the Chickasaw Nation pass federal audits with flying colors.
At the time, the Chickasaw Nation was operating gaming enterprises on a small scale. Eventually, high stakes bingo began generating revenue for the tribe, including a tobacco shop that was established in Ada, Okla. Eventually, his innate ability to lead his tribe led to his election as the first governor of the Chickasaw Nation in 1987. A year later, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law and allowed gaming to be established on Indian reservations. Because the Chickasaw Nation and other Oklahoma tribes didn’t have reservation lands, Anoatubby stepped up to the plate and fought to have the language changed so Oklahoma tribes could also benefit from this new revenue stream. Today, the Chickasaw Nation and other Oklahoma tribes generate millions of dollars annually in revenue gained from Indian gaming.
In 1987, the Chickasaw Nation had 250 employees and $11 million in annual outlays. Tribal programs and services were funded entirely by federal grants. Gov. Anoatubby’s deft use of gaming revenue helped expand the Chickasaw Nation workforce to more than 10,500 professionals, with annual outlays in excess of $500 million.
It was not only revenue generation that motivated Anoatubby, however. He wanted to improve the lives and health of his tribal members. In 1994, the Chickasaw Nation set a new precedent for Indian country after signing a compact with Indian Health Services to take administrative and operational control of the tribe’s health care system. Today, more than 320,000 patients are served annually, and the diabetes center that was opened in 2004 continues to provide diabetes treatment and emphasize preventive measures through health education, nutrition and exercise.
Gov. Anoatubby is a leader who embodies those values of Wendell Chino by diligently guiding his nation from poverty to wealth. He has served the Chickasaw Nation with honor and dignity for more than 40 years, with more than 30 years of service as governor. The growth continues in the Chickasaw Nation, where new efforts to cultural education have taken root. The Chickasaw Cultural Center opened in 2009 and was designed to preserve the Chickasaw culture for future generations. The facility is located on 110 acres of rolling hills, woodlands and streams. Filled with all the latest technological innovations, the center is a marriage between traditional cultural knowledge of the past and the digital age of today.
Chickasaw students are able to learn about their tribe and share their diverse background with the rest of the world. Plans for the center include instruction for students in visual arts, music, literature, video productions and the performing arts. For these reasons and many more, we celebrate Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation as our 2010 Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award recipient.