SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award was presented to Joel Frank Sr., a distinguished tribal and community advocate from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Frank played a significant role in bringing the National Indian Gaming Association team together to create a powerful tribal government gaming presence in Washington, D.C.
NIGA Chairman Emeritus Rick Hill, Tim Wapato’s widow Gay Kingman Wapato and their family members, and Dr. Michael Marchand, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, joined NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. on stage to present the award in mid-April to Frank at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in San Diego.
“The Sovereign Warrior Award was established because Tim used to say, ‘When I’m gone dust to dust, know that someone will try to take away your sovereignty. If I have a legacy, let it be that I spent my life to preserve tribal sovereignty,’’Kingman Wapato said.
Kingman Wapato further remarked, “Joel Frank is such a person. He spent his whole career defending tribal sovereignty, and he has continued to work for all of us in what he has done nationally, regionally and for the Seminole Tribe.”
“This honor is going to one of the most powerful warriors of all time,” Chairman Stevens said. “He is America’s Warrior, he is an Indian Country Warrior, but tonight Joel Frank is the Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award recipient.”
Frank accepted the award and said, “I’m very happy and pleased to accept this award on behalf of all Indian people. My elders have pushed me to represent my tribe since I was fourteen years old… always standing up for our tribal sovereignty.”
As Vice Chairman of the NIGA, Frank was part of the leadership team that led the early discussions about organizing Indian Country for the protection of sovereign rights to conduct gaming. He also advocated to develop regulatory standards to protect the integrity of Indian gaming, which led to tribes organizing and providing financial contributions to fund the legal fees needed for an amicus brief in the Cabazon-Morongo case. This historic case was critical to setting the stage for Indian Country’s economic future.