Washington, D.C. – December 16, 2019 – The National Indian Gaming Association is sad to announce that NIGA Chairman Emeritus Rick Hill journeyed on to the Spirit World Thursday night.
According to the Oneida Nation, Hill passed away unexpectantly in his family home on the Oneida Reservation.
NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., said, “Rick was a great friend and brother. He was my coach, mentor, and one of the finest tribal leaders of our time.” Stevens added, “His passing is a tremendous loss for our Indian gaming family and all of Indian country. Rick, along with other tribal gaming visionaries, paved a bright path for many generations to come. The success of Tribal Government Gaming is due in great part to his leadership, passion, and tireless dedication to serving Indian country.”
On the Oneida Nation, Rick was known for his early years as a very young community advocate serving on the tribal council, coaching, mentoring, and helping young people and families. Stevens recalled that in addition to his generous and heartfelt commitment to the Oneida community, Rick was an amazing and steady athlete. Strong and fast, you could often see him jogging around the reservation or in the local weight room.
Stevens recalled, “Rick excelled in just about every sport, from lacrosse to basketball and baseball. He was also on the crew team [rowing] at the University of Wisconsin. However, football was his favorite sport. One of his favorite accomplishments was fighting his way to the semi-finals in the local tough man contest where he received a bronze medal.”
“He taught us many of life’s lessons, he fed, trained and coached us. He gave every resource he had when there were few resources available in our community. He encouraged us to use our commitment to sports and transfer that energy to the responsibilities of life.” Stevens fondly shared.
“At the National Indian Gaming Association, Rick stepped in to lead at a critical point when 49 State Governors had voted to amend the Indian Gaming Tribal-State Compact Process. Rick provided the spark that kindled the council fire of Indian gaming nationwide. Working together across Indian country, we provided the Native spirit needed to defend IGRA. For those of us in Indian gaming, we all owe Rick Hill our heartfelt thanks for his many years of hard work and dedication on behalf of Native Peoples. He was one of a kind. We will always carry his memory in our hearts.” said Stevens.
“Rick always told us Indian Gaming means Jobs. Education. Health Care. Community. Indian gaming–The new Buffalo,” former National Indian Gaming Association Executive Director Mark Van Norman said. “Rick felt the heartbeat of the Native People.”
Rick served two terms as the Chairman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the first being from 1990 – 1993, and most recently from 2008 – 2011. His 13 years of Tribal government service also included serving as Councilman and Vice-Chairman. Under Rick’s first term as Chairman, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin was one of the first tribes to enter into a gaming compact with the State of Wisconsin in 1991.
Towards the end of his first term as Chairman of Oneida Hill simultaneously served as Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. At the conclusion of his term as Oneida Chairman, Rick decided not to seek re-election and instead go to Washington, D.C., to take on this new responsibility full time.
Under his leadership, from 1993 to 2001, the National Indian Gaming Association became a nationally recognized voice on all issues relating to Indian gaming at the federal level. As Chairman, he worked with the organization’s Member Tribes to establish and strengthen tribal gaming regulatory standards, fought to protect tribal sovereignty and create a strong presence in Washington, D.C. The establishment of Indian gaming advocacy and the protection of tribal sovereignty took a lot of work. While Rick Hill was the leader, I assure you he credits the national leadership, member tribes and his professional staff.
Gay Kingman, Executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and former public relations director at the National Indian Gaming, shared the following statement, “My Oneida Brother, Rick Hill has been called home, his work on this physical world is finished. Rick was an effective Warrior who accomplished many things for Tribes, in his quiet way. I am devastated!”
Gay shared that in 1991, contemporary Indian gaming was in its infancy, and tribes were losing the war. Rick was Chairman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, and he stepped up to lead our Indian gaming industry. She said, “my husband, the late Tim Wapato, and I ran his campaign. Rick got elected in 1992, and the new board asked Tim and me to start a National Indian Gaming Association in Washington D.C. It is said that the three of us were joined at the hip.”
She added, “There was so much work to do, and we were up against powerful enemies such as then gaming entrepreneur Donald Trump, and many in the casino industry who didn’t want Tribes to game.” She said that also included the media, the religious right, and states who wouldn’t sign compacts with tribes.
Gay recalled, “The three of us worked night and day, traveling, speaking, rallying the troops, fighting in the courts, testifying at hearings and such.” Adding, “Long story short, the National Indian Gaming Association succeeded, tribes have gaming with revenue coming in, and the National Indian Gaming Association is strong today thanks to those who carried on.”
Kingman concluded, “Rick had an ability to pull people together, and he accomplished so much with his calm manner and ability to care deeply. And, who could resist that laugh? Rick was coming to Rapid City to visit in a few days; now, I will miss my brother forever. I know he and my Timmy are laughing and telling stories in Heaven now.”
Mark Van Norman says, “Rick Hill was a champion of Indian sovereignty.” In 1993, Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and John McCain (R-AZ), the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s Authors, called Indian nations together in roundtable discussions with governors to discuss the future of Indian gaming, and Rick Hill led the effort to organize tribal leaders nationwide through the National Indian Gaming Association/ National Congress of American Indians Task Force on Indian Gaming.
Van Norman shared, “When some members of Congress sought to pay for tax cuts by taxing Indian tribes, Rick Hill led the fight to maintain the original Government status of Indian tribes as Native Nations. Rick explained that Indian gaming is taxed 100% by our tribal governments for schools, health, child and elder care, and essential community works.” With the support of Congressmen Dale Kildee (D-MI), J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), and tribal leaders throughout the Nation, Rick Hill won the battles for Indian sovereignty of his era. Van Norman said, “We honor Rick’s memory, and we will always remember his wisdom, laughter, and friendship. And his key victories on behalf of our Native People.”
After Chairman Hill retired from Oneida politics in 2002, he went on to pursue his interests in identifying economic development projects and partnerships in Indian Country. He formed The Hill Group, LLC, to consult with various entities to identify economic development projects and partnerships in Indian Country along with equity/debt projects. Chairman Hill also formed RGH Holdings, Inc., to assist and develop real estate both on and off reservations, including the development of the first-ever off-reservation, tribal consortium hotel investment located in Washington, D.C. commonly referred to as “The Four Fires.”
Rick’s latest passion was pursuing a movie deal that would tell the Jim Thorpe story told accurately by Indians. Rick felt a personal affinity for Jim Thorpe’s story. In the earliest Olympics, Jim Thorpe was a Pentathlon and Decathlon Olympic Champion, earning gold medals through his amazing athleticism and Native talent. In the field of Indian gaming and Native life, Rick Hill was that same kind of Champion for our Native People.
Finally, Chairman Stevens shared, “Thank you to all who have reached out. I too, am devastated, yet motivated by the strength of the Hill family and the beautiful memories of my life…Living, learning, and growing alongside the most amazing Warrior of our time.”
Rick, we offer our prayers for your journey to the Spirit World.
Services for Rick include visitations on Wednesday, December 18, at the Ryan Funeral Home & Crematory at De Pere, Wisconsin, from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Traditional Longhouse services will be from 9:00 p.m. on Dec 18 until time of service on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7:00 a.m. at the Oneida Nation Longhouse, followed by a graveside service at the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Oneida at 9:30 a.m.