- By Ernie Stevens Jr
It is hard to believe that we are rapidly coming to a close of this year and all of us have been through so much change and growth together. As we will celebrate the Christmas holiday and just days later, the beginning of a new year, we can all agree that 2020 has been quite the year, and clearly, the 2020 holiday season will be unlike any other in modern history.
This Christmas holiday week started with one of the most spiritual times of the year, the Winter Solstice. It is our transcendent time to reconnect to the natural world and access our most powerful selves. In its period of darkness, the Winter Solstice is also a time to reflect spiritually and inwardly. To care for self, our loved ones and to prepare for the longer days ahead.
It is also the season to take a moment, to take pause, acknowledge goodness, kindness, possibilities, and hope. Most importantly, to embrace thankfulness, positivity, and humanity towards one another and the ability and strength to be Indian Country men and women warriors at home and in tribal communities.
For many, embracing even the future's normalcy is met with fatigue, all these months later as we find ourselves still forced to a new standard, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravish among us. This silent pandemic has impacted all of us emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially.
Until this year, we have only read about these pandemics in history, but we now take our place as part of this history. Despite the despair, by the loss of many of our loved ones, throughout Indian country, tribal leaders and citizens have remained resilient and committed to working on getting through these challenging times. Together, they have been there to care for our community and ease the burdens of a tumultuous year.
Without pause, frontline workers have continued to work tirelessly to protect the lives of their communities. Overnight, mothers, fathers, and family members became teachers, maintaining a curriculum in a virtual world from home. They found a way to balance their children's education while scrambling to keep their homes safe and food in the fridge, always working to maintain a balance for their family during this pandemic.
Examples of goodwill prevailed throughout Indian Country. Without hesitation, our Indian gaming family showed up to help their communities, especially in this holiday season, coordinating food drives and toys for tots, working to give to their tribal citizens and those in their surrounding communities, cities, and regions in need.
This defining period in life has brought about uncertainty in ways we could have ever imagined. Amidst the pain that we continue to endure, we should find comfort in the examples of hope and solidarity and continue to see the value in the positive, encouraging lessons emerging for our post-COVID world.
Our history has shown that Indian Country has persevered over the centuries in the face of many obstacles. There are no limitations to what can be done when we have a common purpose.
Throughout these months facing this pandemic, it has been a priority of Tribal leadership to keep their communities intact – providing essential and vital services to tribal citizens – always with the betterment of the welfare communities. This means working diligently to maintain economic growth through the arm of tribal government gaming.
To meet this, tribal leadership has leaned our top gaming professionals. Including administrators, gaming regulators and commissioner, and all staff, to take appropriate actions to work towards maintaining the operation of their gaming properties, with the health & prosperity of not only their tribal citizens but all customers and visitors to their gaming properties – all while maintaining the integrity of our industry.
As we move towards 2021, with a renewed hope and the prospects of vaccines to end this pandemic, we must continue to stay diligent. Our Indian nations and tribes must continue to protect our people, and we must do so with a sound mind and a good heart.
As citizens, we must continue to be proactive and do our part to stop the spread. Wearing masks equals risk reduction. While our standard is to come together as family and friends to break bread and share holiday spirits of goodwill, we all need to reconsider our family gatherings. We must remind ourselves that doing this means minimizing the risk to yourself and your family members, elders, neighbors, and friends – and can save lives.
I look forward to the day when we can gather to embrace our tribal communities' success and tribal government gaming. With each passing day of doing our part, we are closer to coming together with family, friends, and community. I want to personally thank our respective tribal governments, their elected officials and our gaming industry experts and professionals for all their hard work.
My continued prayers go out to those who have been impacted by this virus. We pray for a safe journey for those who have walked on, for the continued safety of medical professionals, caregivers, and first responders, and for the continued health and safety for our tribal communities.
I pray for a new season of rejuvenation and renewal to shower upon us all, with blessings of good health and fortitude of joy, the endless charity of self and boundless love.
On behalf of the National Indian Gaming Association, our Board of Directors, and our team, I wish you and your families a joyous holiday season and happiness in the New Year.
Ernie Stevens, Jr. (Oneida) is the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.
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