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ICT interview with Ernie Stevens of NIGA on racist mascots

Filed Under: Public Relations
More on: ernie stevens, mascots, navajo, niga, racism, redskins

This black and white photo from the late 1990's shows Ernie Stevens Jr. with his then 11-year-old daughter Lois, testifying on mascots and racism in sports. Today, Lois is currently finishing her Master's degree at the University of Kansas. Photo courtesy National Indian Gaming Association

Ernie Stevens explains why the National Indian Gaming Association opposes racist mascots and why NIGA withdrew from a golf tournament whose lead sponsor was the Original Americans Foundation:
What is your response to the headline of a story about the National Indian Gaming Association withdrawing its sponsorship of a golf tournament to raise scholarship funds for Navajo college students?

I don’t believe that President Ben Shelly slammed me. I think the press is trying to start a fight between us and I won’t go for it. Since I was a young boy my father told me about the Navajo Nation. I have a sister who was born there at Window Rock. So my family has a long standing relationship from then right up to now with my respect for President Ben Shelly and former President Joe Shirley Jr., who’s a close friend of mine.

How did that relationship come about?

It goes two generations back to my father in the late ’60s. My father worked for and with the Navajo Nation all the way into the early ’80s. One of the things my father taught me was that the Navajo president is someone with a special status and somebody who has a lot of responsibility and is to be respected to the utmost and so I’ve always maintained that approach and I continue that despite this press statement that indicates that he may have slammed me. I don’t see that being the case and I will continue my high road approach not just to the Navajo president but to the Navajo Nation as a whole because that’s the way I was taught. Starting with President Joe Shirley Jr. when he came into office, I began a strong bond with the Navajo Nation in the work that I do with NIGA. I’ve visited the reservation a couple of times and most importantly I’ve continued to fund youth and children’s organizations throughout my entire tenure [as NIGA chairman]. Over the last 13 years, again starting with my bond with President Shirley, we’ve made significant contributions to youth and children’s’ organizations in the Navajo community. And we continue to do so.

When you withdrew from the sponsorship of the tournament did you also withdraw your donation to the scholarship fund?

We pulled our name from that event because of our long-standing position [against the football team’s racist name] consistent with that of the National Congress of American Indians and with Indian country’s wishes. We continue to take that position, we’re strong in that position and that won’t change. However, we didn’t pull the money we contributed; we left it intact in the education fund.

Get the Story:
NIGA's Stevens on Navajo President, ‘Slams,’ Respect and Redskins (Indian Country Today 4/22)

Also Today:
Notah Begay blasts Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s new charity as a PR ‘gimmick’ (SB Nation 4/23)

Related Stories:
Navajo president criticizes NIGA for withdrawing from event (4/17)

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