Chairman at the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, James Siva has leveraged tribal leadership to his advantage, protecting tribal sovereignty by giving it a strong edge in what has been a rapidly evolving industry. In an exclusive interview with Maria Debrincat, he explains how CNIGA is set to take the industry by storm.
What is CNIGA’s aim and purpose?
CNIGA, which is the largest regional tribal gaming association in the United States, is dedicated to the protection of tribal sovereignty by ensuring tribal governments have the right to conduct Indian gaming on federally-recognised Indian lands.
It is a trade association that acts as a planning and coordinating agency for legislative, policy, legal, and communications efforts on behalf of its members and serves as an industry forum and repository of institutional information and resources.
How are CNIGA’s executive committee members equipped to push the organisation forward?
As an organisation that is currently made up of 40 tribal governments, it is critical that our executive committee properly reflect the unique composition of our member tribes so that all members feel heard and represented. The executive committee is comprised of four elected officers, and four elected at-large members representing the North, South, East, and Central districts. In addition, we have an ex-officio position for an associate member representative.
The strength of diversity represented within our executive committee allows for meaningful discussions and ideas that benefit the membership as a whole. California is a large and diverse State and the CNIGA executive committee reflects and embraces that uniqueness.
Our executive committee members, as well as many delegates of the general membership, serve on their own tribal councils and are skilled leaders in their own communities. Their experience is the lifeblood of CNIGA and guides us as an institution.
Having an associate member representative on the executive committee also provides the leadership with insight from our industry partners which helps to further strengthen our partnerships with entities that do business in Indian Country.
How is Tribal gaming acting as a powerful economic engine for the Californian economy?
Being rooted in specific lands, often in some of the more economically challenged parts of the state, has allowed tribal government gaming to jump-start economic activities in areas that have long struggled. After 20-plus years of growth, many tribes now are the largest local employers in their areas.
In terms of jobs alone, according to the California Employment Development Department, California tribal governments employed 57,800 individuals. As a point of comparison, that’s 10,000 more jobs than the pharmaceutical/medicine manufacturing industry employs in California.
The overwhelming majority of tribal employees are not tribal members and are drawn from the local communities. Often, these were people who had to leave their communities to find employment or apply for unemployment benefits.
Now, with tribal government gaming, tribes are able to create good, well-paying jobs, in areas that would have never seen this type of employment opportunity. And, most importantly, these jobs will never be moved out of State or overseas.
What is CNIGA doing in protecting the sovereign right of California tribes to operate gaming on their lands?
CNIGA’s sole purpose is the protection of tribal government gaming rights, so everything we do as an association is focused on this goal. Some of the key strategies we employ are:
- Legislative outreach to elected officials and candidates running for office.
- Public awareness campaigns.
- Following legal challenges to tribal sovereign rights, and when necessary, filing amicus briefs.
- Providing a forum for tribal leaders and industry partners to engage and discuss issues.
What attracted you to join CNIGA?
My tribe, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, is one of the founding members of CNIGA, which formed long before my time in tribal leadership. It was during the late 1980s when my tribe and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians sued the State of California over our inherent gaming rights. That case is now known as California v. Cabazon which led to Congress ultimately passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Morongo’s involvement reflects the continued faith that we have in CNIGA as an effective institution to protect tribal sovereignty.
What’s next for tribal gaming?
Well, at least in California, it seems that sports wagering and the tribal government gaming industry’s part in that is the next issue.
Here in California, the voters will weigh in this November with up to three ballot measures possibly heading for the ballot. Two of these initiatives are sponsored by tribal governments, with the third being sponsored by out-of-state corporate operators. At the moment, only one ballot initiative has qualified for the November 2022 ballot.
While California tribes are not in unison on a path toward online sports wagering, there is absolutely no question that Indian Country is united in their fierce opposition to any corporate attempt to legalise online gambling or sports wagering in California.
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