National Indian Gaming Association Hosts Winter Legislative Summit

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Washington, DC (January 30, 2014) – The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) held its 2014 Winter Legislative Summit on January 28-29, in Washington, D.C. A record of more than 250 tribal leaders and their representatives attended the legislative summit, making this the highest registered attendance at a winter summit. NNWO staff Tom Gordon and Carolyn Drouin at NIGA's Winter Summit Tribal Leaders Reception

The first day of the summit was held in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs room located in the Dirksen Senate Building and hosted on the same day as the State of The Union address which was later that evening. The high visibility of tribal leaders present in the halls of Congress provided a powerful statement and the committee room provided the proper forum to discuss the current state of Native communities. Topics discussed included the discriminatory audits of tribal governments by the Internet Revenue Service (IRS), threats to the restoration of tribal homelands by recent U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit decisions, and the a push to reauthorize a host of economic measures to help reinvigorate reservation economies. Once again, a primary focus of NIGA’s Member Tribes this week was on the federal Internet gaming debate.

On these issues, tribal leaders heard from numerous senators and representatives over the two-day conference. Senator Heitkamp addressed the attendees to great applause as tribal leaders thanked her for introducing S.1507 along with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), to address Indian country’s IRS issues. Several members of Congress stated that with regards to the IRS, they are on board with Congressman Nunes’ House bill H.R. 3043, to protect tribal government programs serving their citizens. With bi-partisan support for both of these bills, attendees recommended that Indian country must remain active to see this legislation to the finish line and finally address a decade long injustice to tribal governments.

On the second day of the summit, tribal leaders heard speakers from both sides of the aisle from such Indian country friends as Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Congresswoman Betty McCollum, co-chairs of the House Native American Caucus. With the retirement of longtime stalwart Dale Kildee, also in attendance, Tribal leaders thanked Representatives Cole and McCollum for filling the trail blazed by Mr. Kildee two decades ago when he proposed the creation of a Native American House Caucus. The attendees thanked all three of these leaders for their continued dedication to Indian country issues.

Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn talked extensively with tribal leaders over a range of issues. He mentioned the recent 9th Circuit Big Lagoon v. California decision that applies the Supreme Court’s Carcieri opinion to declare Big Lagoon does not have land in trust.

“This panoply of recent Carcieri generated litigation comes at a dangerous time for Indian country,” NIGA Chairman Stevens said.  Together with the recent Bay Mills arguments before the Supreme Court, the Big Lagoon decision highlights the need for NIGA to work with NCAI, NARF, and regional organizations to address the issue of land into trust.  Stevens reiterated that “Indian country needs to remain united behind a clean Carcieri fix from Congress.”

Senate committee representatives such as Richard Litsey (Muscogee Creek Nation), Counsel & Senior Advisor for Indian Affairs, Senate Committee on Finance, and Mary Pavel (Skokomish Tribe of Washington), Staff Director and Chief Counsel, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, drove home the point that Indian country still has much work to do this year and we must engage in consultation with the federal government to preserve our hard won treaty and constitutional rights.

Congressional leaders talked to attendees about Tax Exempt Bonds, NAHASDA, permanent tribal consultation, IHS, judiciary rights, H.R. 3043: Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, FEMA, USACE Tribal Nations Program, contract support costs, NEPA, the Buy Indian Act, H.R. 3532: the American Indian Empowerment Act, and the Omnibus Bill.

The summit concluded with a tribal leaders only discussion on Internet gaming. All in attendance agreed that while prospects of a federal Internet bill this year are dim, much more discussion and analysis on the Internet gaming issue should be accomplished as we move into the fall election season. NIGA will be hosting several such discussions in the near future.

CNIGA’s Annual Conference on February 11-13th will be the first opportunity to meet and a very opportune time to meet with California tribes as that state continues to look to join Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey in legalizing Internet gaming. There will also be another opportunity for tribal leaders to meet and discuss these legislative issues at the Shakopee’s Mystic Lake Hotel and Casino for the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association’s Annual Conference and Tradeshow. The Conference will be held on March 31-April 2, in Shakopee Minnesota.

These important events will all build up towards NIGA’s Annual Conference and Tradeshow in San Diego, May 11-14. (Details at www.indiangaming.org)

For more photos, please visit National Indian Gaming Association’s Facebook Page.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact NIGA Deputy Executive Director Danielle Her Many Horses at 202-546-7711 or by email: dhermanyhorses@indiangaming.org.

[Photo: NNWO government and legislative associates Tom Gordon and Carolyn Drouin. Photo by Michael Woestehoff]