Indianz.Com Video: National Indian Gaming Commission gains a new leader for the Trump era

National Indian Gaming Commission gains a new leader for the Trump era

The National Indian Gaming Commission has a Republican-chosen chairman for the first time in nearly a decade.

E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, a citizen of the Coharie Tribe, is taking control of the independent federal agency that oversees tribal casino following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate last Thursday. The voice vote was unanimous -- there was no dissent or in fact any debate at all on his nomination to serve as chair of the NIGC.

“The Senate has confirmed Mr. Simermeyer, which will enable him to continue the work of regulating and monitoring tribal gaming,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Mr. Simermeyer’s legal experience and knowledge of Indian gaming enables him to effectively oversee the NIGC and uphold the integrity of the commission.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) converses with National Indian Gaming Commission nominee Sequoyah Simermeyer following a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Simermeyer's approval marks a quick turnaround for an NIGC chairman. During the Barack Obama administration, Simermeyer's predecessor had to go through the confirmation process twice over before becoming chair more than four years ago.

But even in the era of Donald Trump, who was openly hostile to tribes when he was in the casino business, Indian gaming doesn't draw as much as attention as it once did on Capitol Hill. Hardly anyone showed up to Simermeyer's confirmation hearing in July, during which lawmakers from both parties vowed to move quickly on his nomination.

At the hearing, Simermeyer vowed to work collaboratively with tribal, state and other partners in order to protect the integrity of the ndustry, which continues to grow at a steady rate. According to the NIGC's latest figures, tribes took in $33.7 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 4.1 percent from the year prior.

"The tribal gaming industry represents an American success story," Simermeyer, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on July 25.

Simermeyer, who has served as an Associate Commissioner at the NIGC since November 2015, is the first citizen of a state recognized tribe to lead the agency. He brought several of his family members to his confirmation hearing, including his father, whose Coharie homelands are located in eastern North Carolina.

According to prior biographical information released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where Simermeyer worked over a period spanning two presidential administrations, he also has ancestry from the Navajo Nation. He didn't explicitly mention the latter connection during the hearing.

"My family has given me a strong sense of my culture and my Christian faith," he said at the time.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs - Nomination Hearing to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission - July 24, 2019

Simermeyer, is the first new chairman of the NIGC in more than four years. He's also the first Republican-chosen leader of the agency since Philip N. Hogen, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who served almost the entirety of the George W. Bush administration.

"Congratulations to Sequoyah Simermeyer on his confirmation!" Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, another member of the Trump administration's team, said in a post on social media on Saturday.

During the Obama years, Tracie Stevens, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, served as chair. She was the first Native woman in the role.

Stevens was succeeded by Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who served as Chair of the NIGC for a record four years and as "acting" Chair for almost two years prior to that. He stepped down in May and now works for a law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., in addition to serving as the Ambassador for his tribe.

The NIGC was established as a three-member body by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. The law requires the Chair to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The other two members need only be chosen by the Department of the Interior and subjected to a public notice process before being seated. Simermeyer joined the NIGC as an Interior appointee in November 2015.

According to IGRA, at least two members of the NIGC must be citizens of to "any Indian tribe." The law does not state whether the tribe has to be federally recognized.

The law also requires no more than two members to be from the same political party. When Simermeyer was hired at the BIA, it was initially during the George W. Bush administration though he remained on board through the Obama years. During his time at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he served on the Republican staff.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs: E. Sequoyah Simermeyer Nomination Hearing

The only other member of the NIGC at the moment is Kathryn Isom-Clause, who hails from the Pueblo of Taos, a federally recognized tribe based in New Mexico. She serves as Vice Chair and was chosen by Interior during the Democratic Obama administration.

The third seat remains open and it gives the Trump administration the chance to name another member and gain a Republican majority on the NIGC for the first time since 2009.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notices
Business Meeting to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman, National Indian Gaming Commission (July 31, 2019)
Nomination Hearing to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. (July 24, 2019)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Photos
July 24, 2019 - Nomination Hearing to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission

Recap: Sequoyah Simermeyer on Capitol Hill

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