It has been almost a year since the world as we knew it came to a halt, and while we all worked our way through the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also found ourselves in a year that brought about a national election producing record-breaking turnout at the polls.
Nationwide, the voter turnout percentage was the highest in more than a century, and more Americans voted than ever before. Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued its spread devastating us – emotionally, socially, and financially.
As we enter a new year, we see a glimmer of hope with the new vaccines coming on-line to help defeat this pandemic. We will also see new leadership in the White House and the halls of Congress, as the Inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris took place this week.
Without a doubt, we are a Nation that must heal. First and foremost, we must immediately unite to conquer the pandemic, reopen our economy, and rebuild America. It is time for all industries to help this Country take the necessary next steps.
Almost overnight, Indian Nations and Tribes temporarily closed our facilities, recognizing our pledge to protect the environment, public health and safety, of our Indian gaming operations. The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) reports that virtually all 420+ Indian gaming facilities were temporarily closed at some point.
Many of our Indian gaming facilities have reopened around the country, with reduced capacity to maintain social distancing, masks required, continuous cleaning, temperature checks for employees, and all-important health and safety measures for patrons too.
I want to commend all at the front lines of our Tribal gaming properties who continue to work tirelessly to ensure their communities and guests’ public safety at all times.
From an economic perspective, the pandemic has crushed the nation’s hospitality industry, which lost some 8 million jobs, equating to a crushing job loss devastating Indian country’s economies.
For more than 240 Native Nations, Tribal government economies are anchored by Indian gaming, hotel, restaurant, and entertainment operations. Without a tax base to generate governmental revenue, our Tribes rely on these government-owned enterprises to generate revenue for essential community services, including health care, education, public safety, housing, social services, and more.
The National Indian Gaming Association has continued to partner with our sister Tribal organizations on the national and regional levels. While our headquarters have remained closed, we stand steadfast in our mission to support Indian country.
We have continued working every day focused on the health, well-being, and economies of Tribal citizens as our core concentration. Throughout these times, our team has been on the front line, working to ensure that all Indian countries have the resources needed to fight the virus.
It is so enriching to know that in times like these, we are reminded of what Tribal communities are made of – that is, the power to support each other and bring others close even when we are forced to be apart physically.
We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration and the Members of the 117th Congress to quickly enact a COVID-relief package that will expedite and help facilitate vaccine distribution, additional resources for the provision of Indian health care, and added resources to stabilize Tribal economies through the coming months while we wait for the vaccines to take full effect.
The Biden-Harris administration is also committed to making history by naming the first Native American head the Department of Interior with the nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01). Haaland has worked hard to be a fierce advocate for Indian Country and has been a trailblazer during her public office career. It is time that one of our own from Indian Country is at the head of the Department of Interior. As the stewards of this land from time immemorial, we are more than confident that she will lead the Department into a future that protects our land and treaty rights as Native peoples.
As we continue to guide our way through this pandemic, the National Indian Gaming Association has continued to diligently work toward keeping our virtual advocacy momentum.
For now, we have fully transitioned to the new virtual normal by presenting our Seminar Institute training along with additional trainings to our Tribal gaming family. We have continued webinar trainings and discussions about all aspects of reopening Tribal casino properties. Now, and in the future, we will rely heavily upon our webinar and online technology to present our Seminar Series, Gaming Commissioners Training, and our membership meetings.
By and large, the response to our virtual instruction model is very positive. The Seminar Institute is doing well despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Participants of our Seminar Series Commissioner Certification virtual trainings have reported they were thankful for the opportunity to participate online.
The National Indian Gaming Association will continue to work closely with our Member Tribes and sister organization to advocate for our Tribal Governments, support Indian gaming, and defend Indian sovereignty. Standing together, we will get through this crisis.
We will remain on the frontlines in Washington, D.C., to work on behalf of our Member Tribes, whether in person, or on-line virtually. Through this time, we have been reminded that the faceless Coronavirus pandemic does not discriminate. It takes lives regardless of race, gender, status, or political stature. We sometimes take it for granted or ignore this basic fact, but this crisis has reminded us that we are all God’s children – we are all related. Keeping that simple concept in mind will help us get through this together.
While this virus will take its place in history, we must use this challenge as a wake-up call to work together to build a better place for all generations to come.
Please know that even today social distancing and safety precautions are a must. We cannot afford to let our guard down even if you have received a vaccine. Your safety and those of your family, friend, and community are dependent upon it.
My continued prayers go out to those who have been impacted by this virus. We pray for a safe journey for those who have walked on, for the continued safety of those medical professionals, caregivers, first responders, and the continued health and safety of our Tribal communities.
I look forward to the day when we, as the Tribal gaming family, can come together again.
Ernest L. Stevens, Jr.
Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association