Summer: A Time for Family, Celebration and Work on Capitol Hill

The summer months have arrived, and it is hard to believe that we are already halfway through 2010. Throughout the country, students are out of school for summer break and families are hitting the trail. The summer months are always a particularly special time for Indian country. Families are spending quality time with one another, taking advantage of the good weather and the ability to engage with family, friends and community. Gatherings to celebrate graduations, accomplishments and achievements are going on. Many are working the summer months through internships, and some have made it a priority to help throughout their tribal communities. Some tribes or families hit the powwow highway, while others gather for feasts and ceremony, all in the spirit of togetherness and enjoyment.

On a personal note, this summer brought a special celebration not only for my family but also for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Last month, we celebrated the 100th birthday of my grandmother, Maria A. Hinton. Grandma Hinton grew up on the Oneida Nation, where Oneida was the dominant language. She didn’t begin learning English until she was 10 years old, when she was taken to boarding school. At this young age, she made a conscious decision that would empower us even now, 90 years later. She was determined to never forget her native language, and she made a determined effort to speak it daily. Today, she is one of only a handful of Oneida thoroughly fluent in the language.

Never one to allow our culture to be set to the side, Grandma Hinton finished her magnum opus, an Oneida dictionary with more than 12,000 spoken words. Grandma Hinton’s voice will be heard for many generations now and in the future. The Oneida family celebrates Grandma Hinton’s legacy—the sharing of her knowledge and Oneida stories—her cultural pride and language. Congratulations, Grandma. We are very proud of your dedication and leadership, as you have set the path for others to follow. Because of your efforts, the Oneida language will not be forgotten, and your efforts of preservation are not in vain.

Leadership for many Indian people is a characteristic that for most, like my grandmother, simply comes naturally. Leadership of this nature is not learned, but instilled through the values passed on from generation to generation and carried over from one capacity to another. For the most part, the values of leadership are driven by the passion for a better way of life for our Indian people; whether this is through government or other capacities, this passion is the common denominator. Grandma Hinton is a great example of one who confronted the many challenges to maintaining our Oneida way of life and language, because of her foresight of the future. Grandma Hinton is still driven in this way.

As chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, I appreciate that the passion and drive Grandma Hinton has also runs through my veins. It continues to be an honor to work with the leadership in Indian country to provide that better way of life for Indian people. Grandma Hinton is a role model, and I work every day to make her proud.

Indian gaming has forever changed the face of Indian country. The last quarter-century has been filled with innovation and economic development stirred from the kettle of Indian gaming, which has become the epitome of self-determination, as more and more tribes use Indian gaming revenues to revitalize their communities with much-needed services.

From the business standpoint, Indian gaming has been instrumental in reviving the entrepreneurial spirit across Indian country, as the entertainment and hospitality industries have boomed. Casinos have expanded from simple temporary structures to resort hotels with spas, golf courses, fine dining, entertainment and amenities galore. In 2010, the Indian gaming machine churned out more than $26 billion in gross revenues that not only benefited individual tribes but also the local, state and federal governments.

Indian gaming has created a solid Indian and non-Indian workforce that is more than 500,000 strong. At a time when the national economy is beginning to recuperate from a downturn and jobs still are hard to come by, Indian country continues to grow and hire professionals for the Indian gaming industry.

For Indian communities, the funds have made noticeable differences in the quality of life. Indian gaming has provided jobs, fed families, clothed children and provided health insurance for employees. The “Buy Indian” concept has been instituted as more entrepreneurs from Indian country are providing the technical and professional services needed for Indian gaming operations, and we see Native American businessmen and women taking a lead role in developing entertainment and hospitality initiatives. This whole cycle has strengthened Indian communities, families and leaders, as reflected by our place economically and legislatively on the local, regional and national levels.

Our work cannot stop, and we must continue to strive for economic growth for all of our Indian communities. Our tribal leaders must continue to commit to come together united and work government to government to protect our sovereign rights and maintain our charge of advancing the lives of Indian people socially, economically and politically. We must also work in unity with the many organizations that work at the nation’s capital to sustain the bridge between tribal governments and the federal government. The National Indian Gaming Association continues to be honored to work on behalf of tribes alongside sister organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians in reaching the common goals of Indian country—protecting tribal rights and sovereignty while promoting economic growth and prosperity. It is a year-to-year effort that includes simultaneous work with Congress and tribes. For NIGA, the summer months beckon our annual Summer Legislative Summit, scheduled for July 20–23. This summit sets the path for the second half of the legislative year and is one of many gatherings we host with tribal leadership to this effect as we continue to be diligent in capacity building, educating and strengthening our position on Capitol Hill.

It has taken much sacrifice and hard work from many to get to this point, and NIGA salutes all who had a hand in changing the lives of so many Native Americans. The road ahead is uncharted, and we now have additional resources to determine our route.

Just as high temperatures mark the summer season, let us take our position on Capitol Hill for our 2010 Legislative Summit with positive attitudes and positive energy, knowing that Indian country has made much progress and will continue its journey into the realm of innovation and technology. This is only the beginning for Indian country, and we still have much more to achieve.

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