NIGA Mourns the Passing of Indian Gaming Legend Former Cabazon Chairman John James

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April 27, 2018

Washington, D.C. – April 27, 2018 – National Indian Gaming Association joins the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and all of Indian country in mourning the loss of former Cabazon Chairman John James.

According to a news release John Alexander James, 87, died peacefully among family and friends on Saturday, April 21. 

James was known as the “Father of Native American Gambling,” due to his role to help create and expand the Indian gaming industry in the United States. He was critical in guiding the tribe through the court system, which led to the landmark 1987 Cabazon Decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that paved the way for Indian gaming all over the country.

Cabazon Tribal Chairman said, “Chairman James set the bar for all tribal leaders.  His passing is not only a loss for Cabazon but all tribal nations.  Chairman’s service to his country, to his people and to his family is a legacy that we all hope to emulate and to continue to live up to.”

James began his career in tribal government in 1977, where he became the Secretary/Treasurer.  Through this tenure, James recognized that the establishment of high-stake bingo and power were the way for the Cabazon tribe to become self-sufficient.  He was elected chairman in 1989 and served in that position for more than 20 years.

James was honored numerous times for his work in the protection of Indian sovereign rights and his efforts to restore tribal self-sufficiency.  In 2008 James was presented the NIGA’s John Keiffer Sovereignty Award and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) Pathbreakers Award for his contributions to his efforts to restore tribal self-sufficiency and respect for tribal sovereignty.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., said, “John James was a personal friend and mentor.   As a young man growing up in this industry I always looked up to his serious, businesslike demeanor.  For some reason he took a liking to me and always had a firm handshake, a gentle smile and a few words of advice.  As I got older and more experienced we became very close colleagues in this world we call Tribal Government Gaming.  As Indian Gaming flourished, Chairman James yielded the front line to the emerging Tribal Government Gaming Leadership.  While this era did well for our industry, it was because of leaders like him that we did well.  He was always available for us whenever we needed him.  He was my friend, my mentor and my hero!” 

Born in 1931, James was a Korean War, United States Army veteran.  He served in the “Wolfhounds” 27th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division.  He received two Bronze Stars and was recognized by President Richard Nixon as an honorary Navajo Code Talker. 

Memorial service details are forthcoming.