Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs - Nomination Hearing to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission - July 24, 2019

Senate panel moves quickly on Trump nominee for National Indian Gaming Commission

Key members of Congress are moving quickly to install President Donald Trump's nominee at the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Just last Wednesday, E. Sequoyah Simermeyer went before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for his confirmation hearing to serve as chair of the NIGC, an independent federal agency. He vowed to work collaboratively with tribal, state and other partners in order to protect the integrity of the $32 billion tribal casino industry.

"The tribal gaming industry represents an American success story," said Simermeyer, who is a citizen of the Coharie Tribe, an Indian nation recognized by the state of North Carolina.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs: E. Sequoyah Simermeyer Nomination Hearing

Though Simermeyer, who has served as an Associate Commissioner at the NIGC since November 2015, sidestepped some major questions during the hearing, members of the committee liked what they heard. They are meeting this Wednesday to advance his nomination to the U.S. Senate.

"I'm going to work with the chairman to schedule a vote and perhaps move you to the Senate floor as quickly as possible," Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chair of the committee, said at the conclusion of last week's hearing.

The swift action represents a marked turnaround for the NIGC. During the Obama administration, Simermeyer's predecessor had to go through the confirmation process twice before becoming chair more than four years ago due to timing issues on Capitol Hill.

But even in the era of Donald Trump, who was hostile to tribes when he was in the casino business, Indian gaming doesn't draw as much as controversy as it once did. Hardly anyone turned up to Simermeyer's hearing last week -- many of the prominent figures were instead at the annual conference and trade show of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

The meeting in Tulsa proved to be the center of attention, as far as the Indian gaming world goes. There, nearly every tribe in Oklahoma joined together and condemned the new Republican governor's effort to extract more revenues from their successful operations.

The NIGC does not play a role in Class III gaming compact negotiations between tribes and states. Instead, the agreements are submitted to, and reviewed by, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a different federal agency.

But Udall urged Simermeyer last week to take a stance on the matter. He pointed to a recent federal appeals court decision that prevents tribes in several Western states from asking the federal government, as their trustee, to authorize gaming on their homelands.

"When you become chairman, I think it's important that you weigh in," said Udall, whose state is one of those affected by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. "You're the one in the center of what's happening."

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) converses with National Indian Gaming Commission nominee Sequoyah Simermeyer following a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Even though Class III compacts are not within NIGC's purview, Simermeyer offered some insight into his thinking on the issue. He said tribes should be able to enter into agreements with other governments and have their wishes the United States.

"I also have advocated for the National Indian Gaming Commission’s decision-making processes to be diplomatic," Simermeyer told the committee. "Our decisions are diplomatic when we respect tribes’ inherent authority to develop relationships with other governments."

But Oklahoma also falls in the 10th Circuit so the Indian nations based there would be unable to ask the BIA to approve their Class III gaming operations should they reach an impasse with Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who happens to be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, one of the tribes that signed the unity letter.

"The rates under the present gaming compact should not change," the tribal leaders said, rejecting Stitt's call for a higher revenue sharing rate. "They represent promises made by the state of Oklahoma and the tribes. Promises we intend to fulfill now and in the future, and we expect the state to do the same."

Most of the Oklahoma compacts are due to expire January 1, 2020, but the tribes believe they will automatically renew unless all sides agree to an update. Further down the line, the federal official in charge of the matter would be Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, another member of the Trump administration's Indian policy team.

Sequoyah Simermeyer is sworn in by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at his confirmation hearing to serve as Chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

As for Simermeyer, he would be the first new chairman of the NIGC in more than four years if he ends up being confirmed by the Senate.. He'd also be the first Republican-chosen leader of the agency since Philip N. Hogen, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who served almost the entirety of the George W. Bush administration.

During the Obama years, Tracie Stevens, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, served as chair. She was the first Native woman in the role.

Stevens was succeeded by Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, served as Chair of the NIGC for a record four years. Before that, he was acting Chair for almost two years.

The NIGC was established as a three-member body by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. The law requires the Chair to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The other two members need only be chosen by the Department of the Interior and subjected to a public notice process before being seated. Simermeyer joined the NIGC as an Interior appointee in November 2015.

According to IGRA, at least two members of the NIGC must be citizens of to "any Indian tribe." The law does not state whether the tribe has to be federally recognized.

The law also requires no more than two members to be from the same political party. When Simermeyer worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it was during the Republican George W. Bush administration. During his time at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he served on the Republican staff.

Isom-Clause, who has been at the NIGC since March 2016, was chosen by Interior during the Democratic Barack Obama administration. She has been serving as acting Chair since Chauduri's departure in June.

The open seat gives the Trump administration the chance to name another member and gain a Republican majority on the NIGC for the first time since 2009.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
Business Meeting to consider E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as Chairman, National Indian Gaming Commission (July 31, 2019)

Recap: Sequoyah Simermeyer on Capitol Hill

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