WASHINGTON — The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) headquarters building in Washington, D.C. recently underwent a $4.4 million expansion that added more than 10,000 square feet of meeting and office space to the historic early 19th century building on Capitol Hill.
The federal-style building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been NIGA’s headquarters since 1994. Known as the Watterston House, it was built between 1802 and 1819 as a home for George Watterston, the Librarian of Congress from 1815 to 1829. The façade remained intact during renovations.
NIGA reached out to Tribes nationwide and raised $2.2 million for the expansion project, which began in 2012. The Seminole Tribe contributed $50,000 in 2011. But the eventual cost of the project far outpaced funding by an additional $2.2 million, which prompted the organization to seek out more donations.
Recently, with only $300,000 left to raise, NIGA contacted the Seminole Tribe’s Business Marketing Department to create a call-to-action fundraising video. The video is currently in edits.
“The Seminoles have been here from day one,” NIGA Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr. said. “Every time there is a need for support here in D.C., we count on them to support us and they have.”
Seminole Tribe member O.B. Osceola Jr.’s company, Talako Construction, won the construction contract and began work in 2012.
“It supports NIGA’s basic goal to create a Native-to-Native economy,” said Osceola, of Naples. “When you look at gaming, it all started with the Seminole Tribe. The job NIGA does in D.C. trickles down to guys like me, who are beneficiaries of that hard work. I’m thrilled and honored to be part of it.”
The cornerstone of the expansion is the Stanley R. Crooks Tribal Leaders Conference Center, named for the former chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe of Minnesota. The center can accommodate about 150 people. New construction also includes an underground parking garage, outdoor terrace and offices. Its location, just two blocks from the Capitol, makes it easy for NIGA to lobby Congress on issues important to Native Americans, Stevens said.
“This is Indian Country in Washington, D.C.,” Stevens said. “It’s unprecedented that we can bring a team of tribal leaders into this room and they can be in a House or Senate meeting in five or 10 minutes.”
NIGA plans to rent the conference center to groups, but preference will be given to Native Americans. Because of its prime location, NIGA Executive Director Jason Giles believes the bulk of the business will come from non-Native organizations, politicians and political parties for fundraisers and meetings.
“This could be a 24/7, 365-day fundraising facility, but obviously Indian Country and our sister organizations have first priority,” Giles said.
Of the 566 federally recognized Tribes, 240 participate in gaming and 184 are members of NIGA. In a brochure about the building renovation, the organization states that “gaming is the only form of economic development that has ever worked for Indian Tribes” and has provided them resources to provide benefits once promised by the government in treaties and agreements.
The Seminole Tribe plays a significant role in NIGA in part because of its history as being the catalyst for tribal gaming nationwide. Stevens said part of NIGA’s philosophy is promoting economic development beyond gaming and the Seminole Tribe has accomplished that.
“From a standpoint of helping and promoting and mentoring, they are amazing folks,” he said. “The Seminole Tribe of Florida has been a great asset to all of Indian Country, not only in terms of helping and contributing, but walking the walk. They reach out, they care and they help; that’s kind of the Indian way.”
Next up for NIGA is its mid-year conference Nov. 2-5 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, where the conference agenda will focus on major issues facing Indian Country, including the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, Internet gaming and addressing the Supreme Court’s Carcieri decision, which made seeking trust status for lands acquired outside a Tribe’s reservation boundaries more difficult. Trust status is usually a precursor for gaining approval under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for gaming activities.
“We’ll put our minds together in the heart of Seminole country and strategize how we will close this year out,” Stevens said. “We cannot lose focus on our responsibilities to our jobs as it relates to legislation. At the same time, we have to get a strong message out there.”
Giles said they also plan to focus on fiscal matters during the conference.
“We need clarity going into the New Year,” he said. “It’s a presidential election year and everyone’s operating costs go up; there is a lot more travel and a lot more meetings and events you have to host. We’re going to see how we can best meet those challenges for 2016 and start that discussion at the mid-year.”