Raving NEXT: A new generation of Tribal leaders seeks to forge new paths

February 8, 2024 6:22 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
February 8, 2024 6:22 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

When and from where is the next generation of Tribal leaders going to emerge?

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The answers are simple: As for when, they’re in place now; as for where, anywhere there’s a Tribal community.

At the recent Raving NEXT: Indian Gaming Strategic Operations & Leadership Conference at Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, Oklahoma, three young Tribal leaders were introduced by Raving CEO and Owner Deanna Scott.

“We’re now seeing the first generation of Tribal council leaders who’ve grown up with gaming. This isn’t a new product,” said Scott during the session “Championing a New Era: The Influence of Next-Gen Tribal Leadership on the Evolution of Tribal Government and Gaming.”

“This isn’t a new development,” Scott continued. “Many of them have worked at the property. They’ve watched it grow. They’ve sat in the meetings fighting for it. And now they’re sitting in the Tribal council chair.”

The three men who were part of the session entered Tribal positions of influence in different ways.

Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians Chairman Andrew Alejandre was focused on his career as graphic designer in 2014 when he was appointed to Tribal secretary after the theft of millions of dollars by former leaders.

Alejandre’s initial goal was to finish his term and get back to his career, but then a mentor suggested he run for Tribal chairperson. After initial reluctance, he thought about his grandfather’s legacy with the Paskenta Band and decided it was his fate.

“I thought about my people, my ancestors, and all the work they did that allows me to be here,” Alejandre said. “And that was the answer. So I called my mentor back and I said, ‘I’m going to do it. I’ll run.’ And here I am in my second term as chairperson, going for my third this year. It’s been an incredible ride, an incredible journey, and I absolutely love what I do. I feel like this is my purpose in life. I get to help my people, other Native people, and build on top of the foundation that my ancestors left, that my grandfather laid for us.”

Eastern Shawnee Tribe Treasurer Justin Barrett was still in high school when he was encouraged to seek employment with his Tribe. He started in slots, moved to cash operations, and continued to advance through other departments at various properties.

Eventually, two elders encouraged him to run for treasurer.

“And here we are today,” said Barrett. “But coming into office in 2020, we just came out of COVID. We were trying to reopen our property and the Tribal government offices. We were trying to figure out what departments to open. We have a great management team at the property who really led that effort.”

Durell Cooper, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma Chairman, had to fight negative stereotypes when he became a father while in high school. But he persisted in pursuing his education and became the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree, from Haskell Nations Indian College in Oklahoma.

He was eventually convinced by an acquaintance, Ernie Redbird, to run for Apache Tribe secretary/treasurer. When Cooper said he didn’t have any political experience, Redbird said at some point, running for office is new for everyone.

In May 2019, Cooper was elected chairman. Since then he has followed a philosophy based on his experiences, with a determination to continually help his Tribe and those whose experiences mirror his.

“I always try to be positive in everything I do,” Cooper said, “whatever battles we have, whatever we’ve gone through, whatever struggles, even with other Tribes. That’s your testimony, to help somebody else out, the next generation coming up. A lot of young people reach out to us all the time, just wanting to dig into politics or the casino, and we tell them that we’re always here for them.”