Gale Courey Toensing
Ernie Stevens Jr.

NIGA’s Stevens Inducted to Gaming Hall of Fame; Receives Leadership Award

Gale Courey Toensing

This autumn has been a season of high honors for the leader of the National Indian Gaming Association.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. was inducted into the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) prestigious Gaming Hall of Fame in late September and he received the Association on American Indian Affairs’ (AAIA) Leader of Distinction Award in November in recognition of his contributions and service to Indian country.

Established in 1985, NIGA is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing organizations, tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country. NIGA’s mission is to advance the lives of Indian peoples economically, socially and politically. NIGA operates as a clearinghouse and educational, legislative and public policy resource for tribes, policymakers and the public on Indian gaming issues and tribal community development.

The Gaming Hall of Fame is the gaming industry’s highest honor given to those who have made significant contributions in leadership and entertainment. Eighty-six people have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1989. Stevens is the third Native American to be inducted in the Hall of Fame’s 25-year history. The popular leader has been at NIGA’s helm for 14 years.

The American Gaming Association, which represents the commercial casino entertainment industry, recognized Stevens Jr. for his tireless efforts as an advocate for tribal gaming, AGA said in a statement. ”Stevens was acknowledged for his work on behalf of NIGA’s member tribes, educating and informing government leaders and the public about the positive economic, social and political impacts that tribal gaming has on the lives of Native American people,” AGA said. Indian gaming earned revenues of more than $28 billion last year and represents almost 50 percent of the country’s total gaming industry.

The induction took place in Las Vegas on September 29 at the Global Gaming Expo 2014 where Stevens is often a presenter.

In his Hall of Fame induction speech, Stevens credited NIGA’s executive board, member tribes and tribal leaders for Indian gaming’s outstanding accomplishments. “I want to thank the great tribal leaders throughout Indian country who have allowed me to serve our organization for the past 14 years,” he said. “I also want to remember the many tribal leaders and warriors that have gone on before us, fighting those early fights and paving the way. These men and women spent countless days, weeks, and months traveling, advocating, testifying, and educating the public and Congress. Their work protected inherent tribal sovereignty and solidified the right of Native Nations to use gaming to rebuild our communities.”

Stevens received the AAIA’s Leader of Distinction Award on November 20 in New York during the organization’s 2nd Annual Fundraising Reception and Annual Meeting of the Members & Short Film Showcase.

The AAIA is the oldest nonprofit national Indian advocacy organization in the country. Founded as the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs in New York in 1922 to assist a group of Pueblo people seeking to protect their land rights, it grew and merged with other organizations and became the AAIA in 1946. The organization works to promote and protect all aspects of Indian life – health, education, culture, sovereignty and the environment, and also advocates for tribal, constitutional, legal and human rights, according to a statement announcing Stevens’ award.

Stevens, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin has a long history of service both to his community and to Indian country.

From 1993 to 1999 Stevens served as an elected councilman for the Oneida Nation. He is a former first vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). As a respected leader in Indian country, Stevens also serves on the Native American Rights Fund National Support Committee, is a board member of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and serves on the Native American Advisory Board of the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Stevens co-founded Dreamseekers Foundation of America with Hulk Hogan, providing contributions to Tribal nations that face adversities such as poverty, violence and lack of various resources, specifically focusing on efforts to improve health care and education for Native youth and their families.

Stevens earned an Associate’s degree from Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kansas and a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Mount Senario College in Ladysmith, Wisconsin.

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