Despite over two decades of tribal governments operating successful gaming organizations and other enterprises, contributing to Native and non-Native economies, anti-Indian gaming sentiment still finds a way into public and private conversation.

This negative focus often overshadows the untold stories of positive interdependent relationships between tribal entities and the communities in which they operate.  And few outside of these communities are aware of these success stories and the contributions of tribal casinos within their constituencies.

A new awards program was created to recognize tribal governments and their history of uncommon generosity and support in their communities.  Through this program, the goal is to raise awareness, recognize current programs that highlight the hundreds of acts of giving tribal communities are participating in across the country, and share the learning. 

On January 27, 17 organizations were honored at the Tribal Spirit of Giving Awards: Recognizing Organizations That Give Back to Their Communities, Employees and Customers during Raving’s eighteenth Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference at Harrah’s Resort Southern California. 

Tribal organizations (governments and gaming operations) were asked to submit programs and events that were implemented in 2015 that specifically gave back to employees, communities and customers.  The judging criterion was not based on revenue measurement, but on overall awareness, impact, long term benefits, overall value and participation.

Several entries included acknowledging veterans in their communities and in their casinos’ employment, and one entry highlighted a casino’s effort to purchase specialty off-road wheelchairs for veterans that do not benefit from prosthetics. Another entry described how a tribe and their casino shut down their gaming operations for over two weeks to convert into an emergency operation center during one of the most destructive fires in the history of California. Several submissions shared how their community and employees were instrumental in raising thousands of dollars and creating awareness for well-known organizations such as the Meals on Wheels, American Heart Association and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

One of the first place entries, submitted by Sam Wedll, marketing manager, Blue Lake Casino & Hotel, in Humboldt County, Calif., was an example of how one tribe is not only giving back to their community but to the world by their aggressive green initiatives. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy, they have dramatically changed how they do business by going from plastics to paper, switching from fossil fuels and conventional energy to biodiesel and renewables, investing in energy efficiency upgrades, recycling and many other initiatives.

“When the tribe started working on climate issues, it had a primary goal of powering the Rancheria with renewable resources,” said Jana Ganion, energy director for the tribe on the casino’s website. “With this project, we are over halfway there… the tribe makes no secret of its technological advancement and openly shares findings with the world, inspiring and aiding the human species in their efforts to improve society and protect the planet.”

“Submissions like Blue Lake’s are just one example of the extraordinary efforts of tribal governments within their communities,” shared Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company, organizer of the event. “We sincerely hope that the publicity around this awards program will educate the public at large about the many good works that are happening in Indian Country as well as inspire other organizations.”

Organizations from across the country participated in this inaugural contest:  7 Clans First Council Casino, Harrah’s Resort Southern California, Black Oak Casino Resort, Blue Lake Casino & Hotel, Chicken Ranch Casino, Coeur d’Alene Casino/Resort, Colusa Casino Resort,   Creek Nation Casino—Checotah,  FireKeepers Casino Hotel,   Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Osage Casino, Prairie Band Casino & Resort, River Spirit Casino Tulsa, Sycuan Casino and Twin Pine Casino & Hotel.

“Participating as a judge for the Spirit of Giving awards confirmed what I already knew—not only has Indian gaming given tribes the opportunity to do great things for its own members, but we are doing great things for the communities we are a part of,” said Pam Shaw, COO, gaming and entertainment, Kaw Nation SouthWind Casinos, who was one of three judges for the contest.  “I am so proud to be part of an industry that truly displays the Spirit of Giving.  Not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.” 

At the awards luncheon, during the Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference, the following winners were presented with a handmade piece of crafted pottery created by Mary Aragon, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico:

Community Category

First Place – Blue Lake Casino & Hotel: Climate Action Champions

Second Place – Blue Lake Casino & Hotel: Bikes in Blue Lake

Third Place – Sycuan Casino: Sycuan Casino and Susan G. Komen San Diego 2015


Customer Category

First Place – Black Oak Casino Resort: Meals on Wheels

Second Place – Black Oak Casino Resort: Community Grab Cash

Third Place – 7 Clans First Council Casino: Autographed Guitar Auctions


Employee Category

First Place – FireKeepers Casino Hotel: Team Member Rally

Second Place – Northern Quest Resort & Casino: Northern Quest Resort & Casino Kalispel Hospitality Program

Third Place – 7 Clans First Council Casino: Veterans Day Appreciation


This event is one of many fundraisers that the organizer, Raving Consulting, does throughout the year for the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F), which does critical work in addressing obesity and type 2 diabetes in Native American youth. All proceeds of the $100 entry fees went directly to NB3F. Raving presented a check for $7,500 to Justin Kii Huenemann, executive director, representing the entries to the Spirit of Giving program as well as a per conference attendee contribution on behalf of the attendees of Raving’s Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference.