With 18 federally recognized Tribal Nation reservations in the region, San Diego County is home to the largest number of tribes and reservations of any county in the U.S.
But the number of tribal members will grow exponentially this week when the Indian Gaming Association (IGA) brings its convention to San Diego this week for one of the largest gatherings of tribal leaders, gaming executives and regulators in the country.
The IGA, a national coalition of 254 federally recognized Tribal Nations dedicated to preserving and protecting tribal sovereignty and gaming, will host the 37th annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention from March 27-30 at the San Diego Convention Center.
More than 200 speakers at about 70 education sessions with nearly 400 exhibitors are expected to be on site. A kickoff golf event is set for 9 a.m. March 27 at Singing Hills Golf Resort at Sycuan Hotel & Casino. A Natives arts & crafts booths area will be part of the event from March 28-30.
Leading Native voices and gaming stakeholders will hold panel discussions to elicit conversation, exchange ideas and offer feedback on industry-specific topics that include tribal exclusivity in gaming, the cannabis industry and Native priorities, including the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The 8-track conference brings industry thought-leaders from across the country to network, share knowledge and problem-solve. Topics covered are relevant and timely, answering current needs of the industry.
Local bands will be featured on some of the panels, including Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, speaking on the future of sports betting in California; and attorney Tuari Bigknife, from the office of the Attorney General, and of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, speaking on how a state approaches legalizing and regulating sports betting and its legal and market implications for tribes.
“Tribal Nations play a critical role in bolstering our collective success as a country and Indian gaming in particular brings economic growth and vitality not only to our communities but beyond,” said Cody Martinez, chairman of Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. “I’m excited to once again join fellow tribal leaders, executives, and relatives in the beautiful traditional lands of Kumeyaay/Diegueno, Luiseño, Cahuilla and Cupeño. This is a time when we can come together in community, discuss important issues and build power and change for Indian Country.”
Moderated by Eddie Ilko, the National Indian Gaming Commission’s safety and occupational health manager, “Combating Human Trafficking in Indigenous Communities” will put forward a discussion on combating human trafficking in the Indian gaming industry. The panel will provide agency updates to include human trafficking indicators and ongoing collaborative efforts.
Because San Diego is one of the country’s hotspots for human trafficking – the FBI has ranked San Diego as one of the 13 worst regions in the U.S. with up to 8,000 victims per year – this particular topic is timely and important.
The session will include discussions on how the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi (based in southwestern Michigan and northeastern Indiana) and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are proactively combating human trafficking in their gaming facilities and communities through education and awareness training.
The IGA reports that for the first time in the history of the U.S. there is a Native cabinet member as the Secretary of the Interior (Deb Haaland), Natives in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and more Native representation in state legislatures than in the past, and that Native votes will be a deciding factor in the 2024 election cycle.
Other scheduled panels will focus on Indian Country Voting Initiatives and Tribal Gaming.
The IGA will also set aside time to celebrate the success, strength and self-reliance of Native peoples and Indian gaming with the Rick Hill-Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award. Former Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians Chairman Anthony Pico was honored with the sovereign warrior award in 2022.
The IGA’s collection gaming tribes have more than 500 gaming locations that support more than 1.2 million jobs nationwide.
“The Indian Gaming industry is the heartbeat of Native success and self-sufficiency,” said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the IGA, “but our continued success depends on our right to self-governance and tribal sovereignty.”
Stevens said the IGA, a nonprofit established in 1985 and based in Washington, D.C., is “excited to bring Indian Country and tribal government gaming back to beautiful San Diego.” Last year’s IGA trade show and convention, held April 19-22 in Anaheim, drew more than 6,500 attendees.