Stevens dedicates re-election victory and future to the late Percy Powless

By Kimberlie Acosta
News From Indian Country May 2011

 Ernie Stevens Jr.,
Chairman of the National
Indian Gaming Association.
For the past decade, Ernie Stevens Jr. has been criss-crossing Indian Country continuously, representing the Tribal Gaming community as the Chairman for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). With the wrap up of the 2011 NIGA Tradeshow and Convention that took place April 3-6 in Phoenix, Arizona, his reign continues having won his sixth term as chairman for the organization.

“Today I start my 11th year,” said Stevens on Wednesday, April 6. Stevens won by a wide vote margin of 121-14 over Ivan Mikal, which he says indicates the trust Native American leaders have in him.

Fresh off the victory that begins his sixth term, Stevens doesn’t miss a beat.  From convention to the flight home, his down time doesn’t last long before he is in his car traveling hours across Wisconsin meeting with Tribal leaders and communities all along the way. He even made a detour to Indian Country Communications, Inc., to do an interview with Paul DeMain for

The economy is a big issue NIGA is tackling. “We don’t want to wait for our economy to get better, we have to make it better,” said Stevens. “I ran on a position of ‘Unity” and if there is no better time then now to stand united, it’s in our economy.”

Indian Gaming is a $26 billion industry that has created 500,000 jobs across the country for both Native and non-Native people in this economy. “Indian Country made it to where we are by helping each other.”  said Stevens. “People helping people.”

Stevens work record over the past ten years has not only shown his dedication to Indian Country and to Indian Gaming, but his landslide victory to win re-election proves the trust he has earned from the Tribal Gaming leadership across Indian Country.

Stevens credits his work ethic to the examples set by his grandmother Maria Hinton, a retired teacher, who soon will be 101-years-old and still active in the community. Also, he credits his parents Marjorie and Ernie Stevens, Sr.

When asked how has gaming revenues changed Indian Country, he talked about his grandmother who lives in one of the elderly housing units on the Oneida Reservations, which was built with gaming dollars. “I think the key components, are educational and elderly opportunities that we have for taking care of our community... that’s really the blessing of gaming.” Stevens said.

Before Chairman Stevens got back in his car to continue his travels across Wisconsin to meet with more leaders to discuss Indian Gaming, he sat down with me and shared how NIGA represents Indian Gaming on Capital Hill. With NIGA being a membership driven organization, it tries to educate Congress on what is happening in Indian Country, their right to game under sovereign governments and makes it a priority to continue that education as that voice for all Indian gaming tribes.

As an Educator in his heart, Stevens says, “I really like it when we can break ground for a high school – break ground for a daycare. Whatever we can do to make our communities better, safer and more productive, I think those are the key components and that’s really what tribal government gaming is about... building our communities and keeping ourself strong.”

Stevens dedicates his recent campaign, re-election and future work to his uncle, the former Oneida Chairman Percy Powless who passed on to the spirit world  November 5, 2010. Powless was a man who served his nation as Chairman for 33 years. He was the longest seated chairman in the history of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

“He fought for our people. He worked to bring opportunity, to raise the quality of life, and to create educational opportunity and he was a visionary on Indian gaming.” Stevens said. “I thank my uncle and salute his dedication to our tribe and for instilling in me the notion of humble service for Indian Country.”

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