A Native Perpective And Tribal Casinos Reopening

May 25, 2020

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The Past:

 As original signers of the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855, our tribe has endured seven generations of trials and tribulations. Finally, after petitioning for decades, we “The People of the Moon” received what seemed to be the final determination for federal recognition in the late summer months of 1997. Immediately following that proclamation, other local tribes were legally allowed to challenge the determination. To our dismay, some sought to do so. After a lengthy dispute of over two years, the Department of the Interior reaffirmed their original decision and awarded our tribe recognition on October 6th, 1999. At that time I was about 13. Back then the only help I could offer was finishing the rest of the frybread before leaving the potlatch (a gift of giving feast) in Carnation, Fall City, and Tolt Macdonald Park in WA State. Back then, I had no idea that my elders and so many other influential people were working towards something so important. Eventually, solidifying our recognition was more than the right to have a reservation or casino on it. The rights and recognition reinforced our sense of purpose and reinstilled a clear direction for our people to follow. 

The Present:

Fast forward more than two decades to the era of the deadly COVID-19 virus, I have a more enlightened outlook, sense of purpose, and involvement within my tribal community. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore copious amounts of frybread and a good ole’ fashioned family get-together. But as a professional and leader with a deeper understanding of the entertainment industry, I aim for continuous growth and to learn from the teachings of my elders, other established professionals, and high-quality mentors. In many ways, the lessons I have already learned have made me a better person and father, not just a better Entertainment Manager, talent buyer, or casino professional. 

My tenacity and dedication are fueled by the memories of everyday struggle while growing up in poverty and are accelerated by the stories of pain and suffering I’ve heard passed down by word of mouth from previous generations. Because of this, I refuse to sit back and observe or settle. Purposefully, I invest everything and intend to make a difference and a name for myself in the tribal gaming industry, for the greater good of all communities and with their best interests at heart. To some, simply having a great job plus benefits within their tribal government or casino is enough. To others, and native entrepreneurs such as myself, it is only the beginning. 

Right now, for nearly everyone, the urges to extend a helping hand and get more involved with the community are stronger than ever. Whilst setting an example, our interim and hopefully long-term CEO Stanford Le has safely guided the tribe and casino team down this path of uncertainty. Needless to say, our tribal community and casino staff are eternally grateful for his mindful guidance. Without a doubt, Stanford Le is the most trustworthy and resourceful CEO to date. A good example of his resourcefulness was evident one week after we closed our casino’s doors and Governor Jay Inslee implemented his “stay-at-home” order in Washington State. By this time, Stanford and the executive team already had a plan in place on how to secure the tribe and casino employees for the duration of the crisis. To start, their initiative to extend medical coverage for as long as needed (at no cost to the employee) was remarkable and of the utmost importance for anyone in need of such support. Stanford Le also gave employees the most powerful tool of all—the power of choice. While other properties were simply furloughing or “laying off” all non-essential casino employees almost immediately, our casino employees were empowered to make the choice for themselves. The moment you take away a person’s right to choose is the moment you remove hope. And at no other time was hope more necessary. 

There is no question Stanford Le has spent countless hours on the phone holding conferences with politicians and line-level casino teammates. At no point did anyone witness Stanford Le losing his cool. And I am certain this would already be challenging for anyone while having to decipher the mixed messages from already cryptic government officials and politicians. He also resolved to personally answer questions for those employees who opted to be placed on “stand-by” so they could collect the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). Additionally, Stanford made the decision on the first day of closure to hold no less than two weekly meetings with the management team and that decision has paid off in spades (no pun intended). 

Lastly, Stanford and the team of executives have watched intently while other properties decided to throw caution to the wind and open before they were truly prepared and before the approved phased reopening timeline. Our casino will benefit greatly from the mistakes of our neighboring tribes. While other CEOs are busy apologizing to the VIPs who couldn’t get into their casinos and to the locals who couldn’t get home because of traffic congestion, Stanford will be saying “you’re welcome” to the team, VIPs, and neighbors who will benefit from a more controlled reopening experience. 

Our council has approved Stanford’s recommendation to delay opening to the public. Instead, we intend to offer an extended window of time for VIPs to play more comfortably, which will further ensure a more pleasurable experience. It will also reinforce a positive memory that will outshine the shotgun approach previously experienced by players elsewhere. 

The Future:

With proper direction from the right leadership, we get to safely reopen the doors of our family’s casino on June 1st 2020 with an elevated sense of awareness for both employees and patrons. When we closed our casino’s doors due to COVID-19 on March 17th at 3 am, I remember thinking about how life could change forever. The idea of permanently closing the casino felt more real as we received unclear directives from government officials and the overall uncertainty was exacerbated by the media and public opinion. It was easy to let my mind wander as we all knew this was a new kind of threat to Indian gaming. Uncertainty aside, our property is beyond ready to reopen. Not only will we regain the title of the classiest and cleanest venue, but we will now also strive to be the safest.


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