Tribal Leader Roundtable: Spotlight on Leadership and Development

Looking down the road

This month, we spoke with three tribal leaders about the current challenges and rewards they are facing, how they promote strong leadership within their community, and what future projects and initiatives they have planned. Here is what they had to say….

Janet K. Bill

Janet K. Bill, Chairperson
Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians

Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino – Coursegold, CA

CHALLENGES/REWARDS: It has been a rewarding year for the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians. Legislatively, we testified on behalf of the enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the importance of returning cultural and historical remains to tribes. Additionally, we made strides in addressing the opioid epidemic by donating funding to the Fresno Police Chiefs Foundation to acquire several K-9s that are trained in fentanyl detection.

We have also made significant progress with our landback efforts this year with fee-to-trust land acquisitions. Two properties, known as Hawkins Valley and Chapel Hill, total over 370 acres of land in Coarsegold, CA. Hawkins Valley is thought to be the site of our original Chukchansi tribal village. The acquisition of these lands allows us to reassert jurisdiction over our ancestral lands and preserve important cultural resources that are of tremendous significance to our tribe.

Our tribe also remains committed to ensuring the preservation and revitalization of our language. This year, we hosted our inaugural Chukchansi Language Conference at the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino’s Chukchansi Conference Center. Our event allowed Yokuts, Miwok, and Mono linguists to discuss and present language preservation approaches and techniques. We are honored to share that our tribal elder Holly Blossom Wyatt received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from California State University, Fresno. Dr. Wyatt has worked with the Linguistics Department at Fresno State for decades and continues to preserve our Chukchansi language.  

PROMOTING LEADERSHIP: Our tribe encourages strong leadership within our casino and all our entities. From our tribal youth education and scholarship programs to our internship opportunities, we recognize the importance of creating leadership development initiatives for our tribal members. Within our casino, we offer excellent benefits, competitive wages, and employee perks that lead to strong employee retention rates. By creating advancement opportunities and career growth pathways for current employees, we strive to maintain a culture of dedication and purpose.

FUTURE PROJECTS/INITIATIVES: The tribe’s Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino prioritizes making a positive difference through charitable giving in the areas of local community, health and human services, culture, and education. The casino carries out these philanthropic efforts through its Chukchansi Cares program. Since its inception in 2021, Chukchansi Cares has donated nearly $500,000 to positively impact our local community.

The most exciting upcoming initiative for our tribe is a new tribal court system. We are eager to further the development, operation, and enhancement of our tribal justice system. The new tribal court system will allow us to exercise jurisdiction over all issues regarding our tribal members. Creating a self-sufficient justice system will allow our tribe to better serve our members and better address any concerns or issues that may arise.

Reggie Wassana

Reggie Wassana, Governor
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes

Lucky Star Casino, Concho – El Reno, OK; Lucky Star Casino, Clinton, OK; Lucky Star Casino, Canton, OK; Lucky Star Casino, Hammon, OK; Concho Travel Center – El Reno, OK; Lucky Star Casino, Watonga, OK

CHALLENGES/REWARDS: Post-pandemic has been a new challenge for our casino operations. It helped create new effective processes and plans of action to improve employee morale and drive revenue.

Some of the reoccurring challenges have always been the education or knowledge of eligible managers or coordinators within our service area. Like many small rural areas, the selection process needs to be more significant in numbers. The casino industry is nearly non-existent for experienced personnel. The rewards are having entry-level jobs being produced and opportunities for job placement. This allows tribal citizens to work in the workforce and become independent to provide for their families.
PROMOTING LEADERSHIP: The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes promote the most seasoned and tenured employees ready for the challenges of a supervisory role. We continue to train and offer off-site training as it becomes available. At the six Lucky Star Casino properties, we always promote internally. Still, we will advertise openly for the public when more professional, calculated positions open up.

Our casino operations have been in existence for more than 30 years. We are thankful for the revenue to improve our communities. We employ more than 50 percent non-Native staff at our casinos to show our investment in western Oklahoma. We also donate to our local school districts, municipalities, chambers of commerce, and non-profit organizations, which have been great partners.

FUTURE PROJECTS/INITIATIVES: We were the first tribe in Oklahoma to have a casino. My administration has made more improvements than the previous combined years. We have renovations and expansion for restaurants at two of our casino properties. Another exciting project we are building is a 24-hour travel center on I-40, which is underway with a convenience store, restaurant, and gaming center that will include 12 gas pumps for cars and five diesel pumps for semi-trucks. This will accommodate the heavy traffic on the I-40 corridor.

Soon, we would like to reestablish ourselves in our traditional homelands of Colorado. We look to expand our economic development ventures for job opportunities and tribal care programs. We continue to recover lands once held by the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. We look forward to placing four parcels of land into trust that will give the tribes opportunities for jobs and economic development creation. We want to raise our income levels to help offset the inflation rise, but creating revenue will be the only way to combat inflation and increase our tribal care programs. We are constantly challenged, but feel more than up to resolving these vital issues. We sustained ourselves this long and will continue to progress toward independence.

Max Zuni

Max Zuni, Governor
Pueblo of Isleta

Isleta Resort & Casino – Albuquerque, NM; Palace West Casino – Albuquerque, NM /

CHALLENGES/REWARDS: The Pueblo and our people continue to look forward to the future after facing adversity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we hope to take advantage of the positive benefits that flow from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding available to our tribe. We look forward to utilizing the funding available from the federal government for different projects and initiatives that meet the unique needs of our community, whether it be to meet our infrastructure needs, including roads and buildings; increasing internal capacity for our departments; or investing in the technology necessary to improve government services that will greatly benefit our people.

PROMOTING LEADERSHIP: I am very grateful for the dedicated leadership at the Isleta Resort & Casino – it is because of their initiatives that there are expansive employment opportunities available to our people. Our tribal members have the opportunity to pursue careers not only at our resort and our two casino locations, which includes the Palace West Casino; but also roles at the Spa at Isleta, Isleta Lakes & RV Park, and the Isleta Golf Club. The leadership at Isleta Resort & Casino is committed to the development of employees at every level and role, which creates a work culture that fosters growth. I especially appreciate the initiatives that encourage our youth to seek out roles at Isleta Resort & Casino, as it creates a number of opportunities for many of our young people.

Strong leadership at the Isleta Resort & Casino is further promoted by the leadership and development training programs that are offered, including an expansive mentorship program. These programs inspire employees of the Isleta Resort & Casino to provide above-and-beyond service. This, in turn, encourages our community members to gain practical knowledge and build their own expertise, furthering their careers.

FUTURE PROJECTS/INITIATIVES: One of my priorities as the Pueblo of Isleta’s Governor is to preserve and restore Isleta’s village, a historic and culturally significant site recognized on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, which is still used today for housing, religious, and traditional purposes. Securing important funding, like a designated tribal and Pueblo Main Street fund, would help Isleta to restore the buildings within its village, thus preserving an important piece of New Mexico’s and the Pueblo’s culture and history, while also supporting the more than 400 tribal members who reside there today. It is extremely important that tribal members have the ability to stay and live within the village. It is therefore a goal of my administration to restore and preserve the village to maintain its cultural and historic integrity for current and future generations.

Lastly, the Pueblo is very excited for some new and exciting changes at Isleta Resort & Casino and looks forward to the positive impacts that will come from this next chapter.