Samuel N. Penney, Chairman, Nez Perce Tribe

Samuel N. Penney, Chairman
Nez Perce Tribe

Clearwater River Casino & Lodge in Lewiston, ID; It’se Ye-Ye Casino in Kamiah, ID

CHALLENGES/REWARDS: One of our biggest challenges was getting through the initial pandemic and casino operations suspension the last few years, followed by returning to pre-COVID operations with precautionary policies and changes in place. Our highest priorities were always patron and staff safety. Closely monitoring CDC guidelines and weekly consultation with our tribal health entity was key to this process. We were successful in getting our customers back, while making sure staff and customers remained healthy. Some of the solutions involved HVAC treatment systems and smoking bans, VGM redistribution on our gaming floor, masking, and increased sanitation efforts.

We were loyal to our employees during the COVID shutdown, by paying them while they were not working for about 90 days due to high COVID case levels during the initial onset of the pandemic. This paid off with almost everyone returning to work upon re-opening. Our customers have returned, as demonstrated by record gaming net revenues in fiscal year 2021. We have made the decision to keep our facility a “no smoking” facility, and that has been a positive and hopefully long-lasting change. We are optimistic this trend will continue, as gaming is the predominate enterprise revenue
generator on our reservation.

PROMOTING LEADERSHIP: Consistency in tribal leadership is important for long-term planning. Because only three of nine Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC) positions are open each year, that provides some stability for our enterprise projects. At the same time, the tribal membership wants solid and continued improvement in all of our enterprises, including gaming. We just hired a new Enterprise Executive, Nikoli Greene, who we believe will bring new ideas and new energy to our enterprises. In the last decade, Nik, who is Nez Perce, gained experience in many departments at our largest casino, earned a bachelor’s degree in business and has now been rewarded with the top position within our enterprises. We see this as a positive example to younger members of our tribe and what can be achieved through dedication and a solid work ethic.  

INITIATIVES: We are working toward expanding our solar capabilities. Our initial goal is to ensure that the tribe is self-sustaining. Our next goal is to be able to produce energy for the grid. This renewable energy would replace the energy currently being produced by the four lower Snake River dams, which we are advocating should be breached. Beyond that, the tribe is also looking at diversifying its enterprises and making sure our patrons have enjoyable experiences, so that they want to return a second and third time with extended relatives and friends in tow. Nez Perce tribal businesses also include a golf course, public hot springs, two convenience stores and telecommunications services. Possible expansion of our gaming footprint in the region is being explored as well.