This year, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) celebrates our 25th anniversary. Established in 1985, NIGA’s mission is to protect and preserve the general welfare of tribes striving for economic self-sufficiency through Indian gaming. The advancements of Indian country since the introduction of gaming has benefitted tribes, states and the federal government. These achievements are the results of the coordinated efforts from dedicated tribal leaders who have been part of making the Indian gaming industry what it is today. I would like to take a moment to thank one such tribal leader.
Lynn Valbuena, vice chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, knows firsthand how important the Supreme Court’s decision in Cabazon was to not only her tribe, but the rest of Indian country as well. Over the years, she has served in the capacity of tribal chairwoman, tribal councilwoman and as a delegate from her tribe to the National Congress of American Indians. In her second term as vice chairwoman, Valbuena is also serving her sixth consecutive term as NIGA executive secretary.
In September 2010, Valbuena was the recipient of the Indian Gaming Advocate of the Year award during CasinoFest 8, put on by Casino Enterprise Management (CEM). The decision to recognize Valbuena’s efforts in the Indian gaming industry was an easy one, thanks to her hard work and dedication to protecting tribal sovereignty and advocating for tribal economic independence. Still, Valbuena remains humble, working tirelessly to ensure that tribal economic gains are protected.
In 2003, Valbuena received NIGA’s John Kieffer Award for her exemplary service and dedication to NIGA’s mission and purpose. Despite all of her hard work, she has remained dedicated to the most important job of all—her role as mother and grandmother. She knows the secret to being a strong and productive tribal leader will always be her family and home that provide the foundation to let her pursue everything else that follows.
Her curriculum vitae lists an impressive array of leadership responsibilities that make her one of Indian country’s most active tribal leaders. In addition to serving as tribal leader for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Valbuena is serving her 13th year as the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN) chairwoman. TASIN promotes tribal sovereign governmental rights and works to build public support for Native American issues in the central district of California. She also devotes her time to the Autry National Center, an intercultural history center that celebrates the American West through three important institutions: The Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of the American West and the Institute for the Study of the American West.
Valbuena also devotes her time to the San Bernardino Valley Lighthouse for the Blind, the Native American Advisory Committee at the University of California-Riverside, and the San Bernardino YMCA and Indian Health Board.
Her volunteer work and advocacy earned her the distinction in 1996 as one of California’s “Women of the Year,” and in March of 2005, the United States Congress honored her during Women’s History Month as a “woman making history.”
Valbuena’s work with NIGA and NCAI cannot be overlooked, as she has become a familiar face in Washington, D.C. to ensure the interests of California tribes are properly represented on the federal level. She is also serving her ninth year as a member of the Advisory Council to the Board of Directors of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce (AICC). Valbuena’s selection for the prestigious “Warrior Award” from AICC demonstrates she is making a difference in the networking opportunities afforded to American Indian business owners in California.
NIGA salutes her dedicated work ethic and dedication to not only the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, but Indian country as a whole. It is with the help of such loyal and dedicated tribal leaders that NIGA will continue forward in protecting the next evolution of Indian gaming.
Ernie Stevens Jr. is the Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association and a member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. He can be reached at (202) 546-7711.