Jonodev O. Chaudhuri is concluding his tenure as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

National Indian Gaming Commission in transition in the Trump era

Note: Jonodev Chaudhuri has not given a firm date for his departure.

Additionally, E. Sequoyah Simermeyer's term does not expire until later this year. The first version of this post gave an incorrect date about his tenure.

The National Indian Gaming Commission is undergoing major change as its chairman, a remnant of the Obama era, departs the federal agency.

In an exit interview with Indian Country Today, Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri did not say where he was planning to go. But the Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen said he was proud of his work at the agency charged with overseeing the $31 billion, and growing, tribal gaming industry.

"My broad goal when I started was to take every opportunity I could to advance the cause of tribal self-determination," Chaudhuri told ICT, citing the recent publication of the NIGC’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan as respecting sovereignty while at the same time improving regulations and operations at NIGC.

"A one-size-fits-all approach will not work for the Indian gaming industry," Chaudhuri added. "As a result, we strive to recognize the unique landscape of each tribe and try to guard against unintended consequences in all we do."

Chaudhuri's exit opens the door for President Donald Trump, who has antagonized tribes in the past with racial attacks and even challenged the legality of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, to reshape the agency. Under the law, the chairman of the NIGC must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to a term of three years. Chaudhuri was confirmed in April 2015.

The nomination and confirmation process typically takes months to complete and it has not been Trump's strong point. In February, he abandoned his pick for the Indian Health Service after questions were raised about his nominee's background.

And his nominee to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs is barely getting a confirmation hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, after questions about her background delayed the process for more than six months.

Despite Chaudhuri's exit, the NIGC will still have two members on board. One is Kathryn Isom-Clause, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Taos and whose three-year term isn't set to expire until next March. She has been serving as vice chair of the agency.

The other member is E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, who hails from the Coharie Tribe, a non-federally recognized tribe, and also has ancestry from the Navajo Nation. His three-year term doesn't expire until November of this year.

Though the chairman of the NIGC must go through the Senate confirmation process, the other two members are chosen by the Department of the Interior.

According to IGRA, "not more than two members of the commission shall be of the same political party." Though Chaudhuri, Isom-Clause and Simermeyer were all named during former president Barack Obama's Democratic administration, Simermeyer is not considered a Democratic appointee -- he has worked for the Republican staff of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in the past.

With Chaudhuri out of the picture, the Trump administration is likely to select an "acting" chairman until a permanent person can be installed. Meanwhile, the NIGC can continue to function with just two members, as it did for three years of the Obama era, even dropping down to just one member during a six-month stretch in 2015.

"I hope to see the NIGC continue to build upon vital partnerships and stay on the same track we have created during my time as Chair," Chaudhuri told ICT. He remains on the job as of Wednesday and has not given a firm date for his departure.

Read More on the Story:
The State of Indian Gaming: An Exit Interview With NIGC Chair Jonodev Chaudhuri (Indian Country Today May 8, 2018)

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