BMM Testlabs Exclusive Interview with Chairman Stevens, Jr.:
Understanding the Teachings of Men and Women in Leadership
“Being the Chairman of the IGA means the world to me, it’s a dream come true.”
BMM Testlabs, the world’s original gaming test lab, inspection body, and product certification consultancy, hosted Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the IGA, for an exclusive interview honoring his accomplishments throughout his 18 years of elected leadership.
Ernie Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesperson for the Indian Gaming Association (IGA), which ensures that Tribes are recognized and protected against issues of Tribal sovereignty. Located on Capitol Hill, the IGA works with the Federal government and Congress to develop policies that protect and preserve the general welfare of Tribes and gaming enterprises in Indian Country.
Chairman Stevens, Jr. is currently in his ninth two-year term as the IGA’s leader, which is a position elected by the member Tribes of the Indian Gaming Association.
Formerly known as the National Indian Gaming Association, the IGA has recently rebranded in an effort to prevent its acronym from being considered offensive if misinterpreted or mispronounced.
Chairman Stevens, Jr. explained, “I think the name change is important and essential. It has been a formality and housekeeping item for a long time. The Board of Directors at IGA decided it was something that needed to happen. We will always be the National Indian Gaming Association, just with a different name, but we never have to worry about that acronym being taken out of context.” For Chairman Stevens, Jr., being the leader of the IGA is everything he ever wanted to do in his life.
Growing up in an era of activism, Chairman Stevens, Jr. has always wanted to change and help the world. He cites both of his parents as his first role models of great leadership. “As much as I am like my mother because I follow her kind of pattern and personality, I always wanted to be like my dad.”
Ernie Stevens, Sr. first arrived in Los Angeles after fighting in the Korean War as part of the U.S. Marine Corps. He was initially met with struggle, but a fellow Indian helped him find employment and adapt to his new life in the city. “My father decided to do for all Indians in Los Angeles what his friend did for him. This led him to create Indian centers in LA to promote economic development. He eventually created the California Indian Tribal Reserve and joined the Los Angeles City Human Rights Commission to help Indian folks survive.”
Chairman Stevens, Jr. fondly remembers how everyone knew and admired his father, because of his advocacy for economic development, self-determination, self-governance, and sovereignty. “He didn’t have a college degree. His education was boot camp and combat,” recalled Chairman Stevens, Jr. “He didn’t wait for anyone. He got his nose to the grindstone. He figured out how to solve problems or found someone to fix it. He did the research and studied, and that’s why he was so good. My father was a national folk hero for what he did for Tribes. That’s what I wanted to be. But to survive in life, I was taught by women.”
Chairman Stevens, Jr. credits the women in his life for teaching him how to respect and achieve in a world mostly dominated by men. “I learned from women, and to an extent, I still am.”
His mother was an enthusiastic leader and the first of his many female role models. “My mother was on a different path as part of the student activist movement. She was feisty and energetic, a little louder and outspoken. She wanted to change the world by standing strong.”
Chairman Stevens, Jr. believes the biggest accomplishment not on his resume is that he is a man who understands the mutual role of men and women’s influences and teachings. “As much as I seem like I know what I am doing and confident in what I’m doing, I always have to go and get help. The most important role model and teacher in my life is my wife, Cheryl. She’s like my father because she can do anything. It doesn’t always come immediately, and she has to do research, but she always tries to figure it out.”
Balancing fairness and unity is automatic for Chairman Stevens, Jr. when he is making difficult decisions. He looks to the six Tribes that comprise the Iroquois Confederacy for inspiration when making decisions. The Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Tuscarora Tribes formed a bond to protect themselves and work together to create a peaceful environment. “In that environment, women are always equal. There are no chiefs if you do not confer with the clan mothers. Those are mutual decisions built into a democracy.”
Chairman Stevens, Jr. continues to follow in the footsteps of his father while learning from all of the women in his life, from his wife to his granddaughters. “They help me when I do step out of balance, and I learn from them. A strong woman’s influence and a man’s leadership quality makes the best of both worlds. I always wanted to be like my dad, but I learned from all the women in my life on how to be a fair and constructive leader.”
His father told him if he wants to make the right decision, he had to bring Tribal leaders together from as many regions and Tribes as possible. “You get the Tribal leaders around the table and hear their voices; you’ll get your direction,” Chairman Stevens declared. “That’s how I’ve always tried to do my consortium building. I make decisions based on a consensus of leadership. That’s how I’ve been able to establish strong positions.”
Chairman Stevens, Jr. believes everyone should accept their leadership roles in life, especially young people.
“When you’re clean-cut, polite, and well-mannered, whether you’re 28 or 58, people watch you. You really have to accept the role.”
Thirty years ago, Chairman Stevens, Jr. helped establish a youth visibility program in The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). For over twenty years now, the NCAI has had young delegates, both men and women, play a significant role in legislation and monitoring what is happening in Washington, D.C. Those young people have grown to become doctors, lawyers, and Indian leaders. “Your youth leadership responsibility will increase and greatly enhance as you get older,” concluded Chairman Stevens. “Don’t be a future leader, be a leader today.”