Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the landmark “Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times” interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary leaders who have played instrumental roles in Native nations' struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.
In this interview, Gay Kingman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe discusses her 25-year career as a teacher, principal and tribal college president. She also discusses her work as Executive Director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association as well as some of her past roles, including Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians and Public Relations Director of the National Indian Gaming Association. Kingman is a fierce defender of tribal rights and sovereignty.
This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.
Kingman, Gay. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Portland, Oregon. 2004. Interview.
"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."
"Gay Kingman, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, is the great granddaughter of Chief No Heart and daughter of Violet and Augustus Kingman. Her paternal great grandfather was Dog's Backbone who was killed in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Gay spent 10 years researching her grandfather and the Indians who fought at Little Bighorn. She was greatly rewarded when legislation was passed to establish a memorial in their honor. Gay's parents had high expectations for their daughter sending her to a school run by the Presentation Sisters where Gay was encouraged to continue her education. She earned a BS at Northern State College in Aberdeen, later receiving a master's in education at Arizona State. During her college years she married and had two sons. Her outstanding career as an advocate in Indian Country was preceded by 25 years in the education field as a teacher and administrator. Venues where she served include Pine Ridge, Eagle Butte, Minneapolis Public Schools, United Tribes Technical School and the Scottsdale Public School system. She was the superintendent of Pierre Indian Learning Center in South Dakota and the president of Cheyenne River Community College. Through all her efforts on behalf of Indian Nations, Gay has remained at heart an educator, one who liked to work with the student no one else wanted, the student causing the most trouble. This depth of commitment to social justice, this willingness to take on tough and stubborn jobs has informed every social task she has embraced. After her sons were grown, Gay went to Washington, D.C. accepting a prestigious educational award. President Carter had created the Department of Education. One of Gay's jobs was to see what could be done for Indian people in the Department of Education. She served as president of the National Indian Education Association which meant lobbying, testifying in Congress and fundraising. Quinault leader Joe De la Cruz brought Gay into the National Congress of American Indians and she was quickly installed as Executive Director bringing the venerable old organization from a financial crisis to a state of stability. She learned the maelstrom of Washington, D.C., developing allies in Congress and with staffers in finding opportunities to educate members of Congress who didn't have Indians in their districts. She cultivated many relationships with national Indian leaders such as Roger Jordain. In 1989 a propitious event occurred that would take Gay's life in yet another direction. She issued a call to the Indian community to come in and help her clean the NCAI offices. One man entered the door whose interest was not in clean floors but rather in taking her out to dinner. Timothy Wapato and Gay Kingman married in 1990. Gay a Democrat and Tim a Republican have been a dynamic political couple working both sides of the aisle through many daunting challenges, not the least economic development in Indian Country. In the early 1990s the times were contentious. Senator Daniel Inouye told tribes they had to get together and do some good education and media on gaming and how it could meet the needs in Indian communities. In 1993 Gay was appointed the Public Relations Director of the National Indian Gaming Association and Tim became its Executive Director. Many individuals, not the least Donald Trump, were hostile to Indian gaming and worked hard to limit it with legislation. To combat these efforts Gay created a PR campaign, Schools vs. Yachts which she conducted from the grassroots to the national level. For this campaign she won a prestigious PR award. Gay's human rights leadership extended to the University of Madrid where she was a guest lecturer at a discrimination and human rights symposium chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu. In 1998 Gay left her D.C. career to return to South Dakota to take care of her 100 year old father. Today her sons continue in the path that Gay, her father and her ancestors established. Vernon works with Indian business development and Chuck, a lawyer, is engaged with the National Tribal Judges Association. Gay Kingman is a member of the Policy Board of the Institute for Tribal Government.
Family history: Dog's Backbone and Little Bighorn
"My parents, my mother was Violet Rivers Kingman and my father was Augustus "Gus" Gilbert Kingman. My mother... They were both Cheyenne River Sioux tribe members and both part French because the Canadian French came down on the Missouri and intermarried with the Sioux and so we're all part French as well. My grandfather, I remember very well my Grandpa Rivers was, they called him the Little Frenchman. He was a blue-eyed man and would...he fished in the river and would sell fish so I'd go out in the boat with him once in awhile. My father on my dad's side was a descendent of Dog's Backbone who was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn and he went to school as a young man at Hampton, Virginia. It was one of the first off reservation boarding schools. It's still in existence today. It's a prestigious Black university. I've been there twice now to do research on my grandfather. So the Kingman name will be honored this June 25th at Little Bighorn and I've worked almost 10 years on doing that research and they'll be laying a warrior marker where Dog's Backbone fell warning his tribesmen that the soldiers are coming and the bullets are coming fast and furious."
Gay Kingman's tribe
"I was secure in who I was as a tribal...a member of the tribe and it was never questioned until I guess I grew up and went away and then I always...then I found out there were other people or other tribes and everything. But we had...the tribe that I'm from is a large tribe. We have over probably around 12,000 members, 12,000 something and our land base is quite large and our leadership is...we have an exceptional leadership all throughout history. So I come from I guess a tribe who I'm very proud of and we have four Bands of the Sioux Tribe at Cheyenne River. And those four Bands, on my father's side I'm Minnecojou and then on my grandma's side I'm Blackfeet Band. I guess...I did get an education growing up on my own culture and traditions but it was not anything out of the ordinary. It was just an accepted thing that happened."
Parents' hopes for their daughter
"They set high expectations and it wasn't anything that they demanded but it's just accepted that you do these things. As my family had been great leadership in the tribe, it was just accepted. And so my parents started me playing the piano at I think I was like five years old and I kept that up through college. They sent me away to school so I could have a better education than I could receive on the reservation. That was all expected and I accepted it and went through with it because I believed that they knew what was right for me. I think those kinds of expectations you put with your children and I know for my own sons I didn't demand it but they were expected to go on to college as well and they did. The Presentation Sisters, and I was the only Indian there in school because as I said it was in Aberdeen, South Dakota and it's off reservation. They encouraged me as well as every student there to go on to school. As far as my tribe, the tribe encouraged us and they had financial aid opportunities for us to go on to school but if you think back in those days that was early ‘50s and girls weren't expected to do as much and it was that way on the reservation as well. A lot of the men were expected to go on to college and do great things but women it wasn't and we were geared into being a secretary or we were guided into areas that weren't as I guess progressive. And so after I got my two-year degree I had gone to Presentation College then for two years and I asked to go back onto my four-year degree and the person in charge of financial aid said, ‘No, you've got your two-year degree.' And so I thought, ‘Well, I want to go get my four-year degree of education so I can teach, not just a two year.' And so I went before tribal council and I remember I was so scared to go before the tribal council at that time and I asked them, I said, ‘I want to go on to school and get my four-year degree,' and one of the councilman I'll never forget, he said, ‘Why is it some students finish in two years and some finish in four.' They just didn't understand the degree and how many years it takes and the advanced degree but they gave me the financial aid and so I was able to go on then to Northern State College in Aberdeen and graduate with a four-year degree in Elementary Education. I finished in '63, 1963 and went immediately into teaching. Meanwhile backing up a little bit when I was 19 I got married and I had my first son in 1960 and I always tell my sons that, ‘You have to go on to school because you went to college before you were born,' because I was having them and I was in college and I was doing education and working too because when you go to school you never have enough money to fully compensate you for all of your needs. And so I worked at Penney's and got very low income. And then next door to Penney's was a Woolworth's and they thought I was a pretty good worker and a good checkout so then they gave me a nickel more an hour so I moved over to Woolworth's. It was really a struggle but it was fun because many of us Indian students were struggling together to get through college."
Choosing education as a field of study
"I liked children and so I think education is a way that, it's a springboard too for any other field that you could go into so I went into education and minored in music because I'd had years of study in music, played in the church...played organ in church since I was 11 years old. I guess it was a springboard for me in my career because after education then I went into tribal affairs nationally. We didn't have a good career counseling either in those days. Today I think young people are exposed to all of, a wide diversity of careers. I began teaching on the Oglala Reservation, Pine Ridge, South Dakota and it was grade school. My degree was in Elementary Education so I taught from like first through third grade and then I transferred to...this was for the U.S. Government. Then I transferred to my own reservation, Cheyenne Eagle Butte and taught there and that also was...I think it was like third and fourth grade and then I moved to Minneapolis and taught there in the Minneapolis Public Schools. I've always been one though that I liked to work with the student that nobody else wanted, the student that was causing the most trouble. I can really relate to them well and they relate to me. And so when I was in Minneapolis, the school I taught in was in the south side and I had students there who came from poverty area and students there who had troubled home life. And the class that I had were those students that nobody really wanted and we had a great time. I think...I have such problem with parents who let down their children because many of the problems stemmed from the poor home life or the parents who were drinking or the parents...I had one child whose mother was a prostitute. I used to have to go get the child out of...in the morning sometimes from her home because she'd sleep in and nobody would wake her. And then I was offered a principal-ship. So I moved from Minneapolis to Bismarck, North Dakota and I ended up actually beginning a school. It's kind of every teacher's dream to put into a school all that you've wanted for children and so I started the Theater Jamison Elementary School at United Tribes which is...it's a college, it's University Today. So I moved to Scottsdale and I had a position as the Director of Indian Education for the City of Scottsdale and we had kind of the reverse from what I'd been used to. When I worked on the reservation, our children were more needy, had more poverty. In Scottsdale we had a lot of needy students but it wasn't because of poverty, it was because maybe their parents were gone all the time and they were neglected or whatever. So one of the things that I did with the students in Scottsdale was set up an exchange program with Chinle, which is a school district on the Navajo Reservation and we would bring our students from Scottsdale to Chinle, to the Reservation and they'd actually stay in Navajo homes and they would be exposed to the family and their way of life and then we'd have Chinle students come to Scottsdale and they'd learn what it was like to live in the urban area. And it was wonderful because when we first got to Chinle the Scottsdale students said, ‘Well, there's nothing to do here.' But it wasn't long and they were jumping in the sand dunes and they were hiking up and down Canyon de Chelly."
The American Indian Movement (AIM)
"I was personally impacted by the American Indian Movement when I was in Minneapolis, that began in the late ‘60s and I saw for myself the reason for the American Indian Movement and there was a lot of persecution of Indians in those days and probably exists today but it's gone more underground, it's more subtle. There was a lot of abuse by the police to Indian people. So my husband, the boy's father couldn't...got involved in this because he couldn't let some of the abuse that was happening and he was well educated as well and so he used his ability to write and to speak out against the abuse that was happening. For example, some of the pregnant woman got beat up...there was...in Minneapolis there's an area where a lot of the Indians lived and the police beat her and there were things like that. So a lot of the Indians got together and they formed what they called then the American Indian Movement and they would take people home from the bars before the police got to them because the police would abuse them. They'd get beaten up. And that's how the American Indian Movement began. And I think it had good intentions and it was the best way to do things at the time and it was the best way to help the Indians. My husband then and I started the school for a lot of the children because the children were being pushed out of the public schools. The school wasn't addressing their cultural needs or their other needs coming from the reservation to the city and so we started the Survival School for those children that weren't in school and my husband ended up running that as I worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools. And it's still in existence today and it's an acceptable school today but at the time we had such a hard time getting it going because people thought that it was something that wouldn't last. But yet we had a lot of success with the students that attended because we could attend to their needs, we could address their cultural needs, language was taught as well as we learned the values in the Indian way. To this day Clyde Bellecourt and the people that began it are still good friends because their intentions and what they did were very honorable. Today they run the...some very good programs for people in Minneapolis."
Life as a teacher, mother and activist
"My own children were part of everything that we did. In the Indian way your children go along with you, you don't leave them at home with a babysitter so they were down with the American Indian Movement at the meetings. I taught in the same schools that they went to so I was there daily with them. My husband and I ended up parting ways at Minneapolis. He remained with the American Indian Movement in the Survival School and I left to go to Bismarck and run the school and begin the Theater Jamison School. I did so principally because I felt that the needs of my children would be better served that way for me to be in a more established position and give them a better home life that way."
Sons growing up, a career change, going to Washington
"For the first time in my life I didn't have my sons and it was terrible. I'd walk down the hall to where their bedrooms were and I'd just get a lump in my throat. There really is an emptiness syndrome. So at that time I thought, ‘Well, if they're leaving home, I'm going to too.' So that's when I went to Washington, D.C. I had accepted a educational leadership position and it was I guess a prestigious award that I got. I was one of 500 that was selected, 50 of us were selected to study policy in the Nation's capital and actually we worked at the same time and then we had classes going on at the same time. So I worked for OMB and my position was the transition team for the Department of Education. President Carter had come in and he created the Department of Education and so when you do a big transition like that in government it's almost an unwieldy situation because education had always been in Health and Human Services, HEW, Health, Education and Welfare and they took the Education out and made it a standalone department. And so one of my responsibilities was to decide what we could do for Indian people within the Department of Education. Today as a result of that there is a Department of Indian Education within the Department of Education and it works with Indian students in public schools and public schools across the United States that have a significant number of Indian students receive funding to assist them with Indian children. And it depends on the need in the community. There's also funding for universities that have Indian students and they can get funding for scholarship programs to set up for Indian students. So that's within the Department of Education and I guess I had a small part in trying to get that set up within the Department of Education. Always people think of the Bureau of Indian Affairs when you think of Indians. Well, in the Department of Education now there's Indian Education.
As President of Cheyenne River Community College, Gay works toward its accreditation. She eventually heads National Congress of American Indians, NCAI, getting it on solid footing
"My career was going and I was working in these various positions. I'd also been asked by people I worked with and I got elected to certain offices nationally and I served...I got elected to a three-year term for the National Indian Education Association and served as secretary and treasurer and also president of the National Indian Education Association. That is an organization of schools and colleges nationwide of Indian Education and when I served as president it meant lobbying in Congress and advocacy for Indian education, trying to get more funds for respective programs. It also meant running our office and so these were going on parallel to my career and it also helped prepare me also for the advocacy and I guess the politics that happen in Washington, D.C. Then I was also elected to a three years term on the National Congress of American Indians. Now the National Congress of American Indians is much broader than the Indian Education Office. It is made up of all of the tribes nationwide who can have membership and it deals with all of the programs that Indians have nationwide such as economics or health and human services or education or it could deal with legislation in Congress, many Supreme Court law cases that have come down, whether good or bad for us and what that means. So when I got elected to the Board of Directors that meant a very wide perspective then that I would have to work with. I served as secretary for the organization and then I was elected as treasurer as well for the organization and served there three years. I remember it was Joe De la Cruz asked me if I would be interested, cause Joe was on the Board of Directors and I said, ‘Well, I never thought about it but I would be.' So the Board met and put me in as Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians. So I went into...I didn't even go back to Eagle Butte because the urgency was so demanding at that point so I went directly to Washington, D.C. from the meeting. And my son was working at home for the tribe as a comptroller for the tribe and so I called him and asked him to go pack up my things. I'd written a letter of resignation and of course the chairman of the tribe was there so they knew my situation and I went to Washington, D.C. to become the Executive Director. And I wasn't prepared totally for what we found. We found a financial mess. The organization was almost on the verge of bankruptcy. Federal grants that the National Congress of American Indians had at that time were in danger of being pulled because no financial reports had been submitted. It was just a real mess. And then the main thing was that there was no credit, no credit for any of the hotels so we couldn't even have meetings. And so I put out the call to some of the tribal leaders at that time and here again Joe De la Cruz and Wayne Duscheneaux, they immediately responded and they sent people in to help. I remember Joe sent in his financial person to help begin sorting out records. Another tribal leader sent in some staff. I believe a tribe in Michigan sent me some workers because we had to terminate, we had to let go the staff that was there. We just didn't have the funds to make payroll. And I called on some of my friends then who were living in Washington, D.C. One, Carol Gipp, whose field is business and finance so she came over and started helping. I called upon my son who is an attorney and an excellent writer and so he came over to help. And so we kind of got by that way and we began sorting out the financial situation and we began making headway and I had meetings set up...I remember [unintelligible] with a tribe in Wisconsin helped greatly with the federal people because we had grants with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. And so we had meetings set up with them to work out what arrangements we could make to get our grant back in good financial sitting. The years that I was there, the couple of years until my contract was up, I received a resolution of support from the National Congress of American Indians acknowledging all my hard work and that we put the National Congress of American Indians back on a firm sitting again and it was able to move ahead. New people coming on were able to take it from there and keep the progress going. So our old and venerated organization that had begun back in 1944 was on firm sitting again. I especially enjoyed all of the people because I got to meet Indian people nationwide and work with them. I got to know all of the staffers in Congress and work with them and some very, very outstanding, very supportive Congressmen and Senators such as Senator McCain. He remains an idol to me today. If you think all this man has done, he was a POW for seven, eight years of his life and his arms were broken and he can't even comb his own hair, physically he went through so much. And so he stood up, he stood up for Indian people many times. Senator Inouye who is Democrat, again a warrior who's lost an arm in the war fighting for his principles and what he thought and we have him on our side and he's stood up for Indian people many, many times. There's many people like that including staffers that kind of come and go because they're not well paid in the Congress but many of them, we've lost some good people in Congress like former Congressman Elizabeth Furse. We need people like that in Congress to understand where we come from as Indian people."
Sometimes encountering negativity, looking for the good things and meeting Tim Wapato
"With me, the politics that I ran into were Indian politics and I had a hard time because all my life I've always believed to see the good in things and you can do good but when I ran up against some negativity in politics it was hard to fathom and I didn't have...I could not get on that level and deal with it...I'd rather take the high road so that's what I did. But one of the good things that came out of my time at the National Congress of American Indians, it was soon after I got in in 1989 the place was a mess and so I had asked the Indian community in Washington, D.C. to come and help me clean. And so the doors were open and we had people doing floors and dusting and washing and everything and in walked this man I'd never seen before. I thought he came to work so I said...I was going to put him to work and said, ‘Will you do this and that?' and he said, ‘No,' He said, ‘I'm house hunting.' But he said, ‘I'll come out and take you out to dinner later.' And I thought, ‘Sure, just another Indian man, he's making promises he won't keep.' So we were all working and we had the National Congress of American Indians building all spotless and here he came back and he did take us to dinner. That was my first time that I met Timothy Wapato who eventually was to become my husband. The more I talked to him I thought, ‘Well, this man has some intelligence,' and I liked what he did. He was the Commissioner of Administration for Native Americans. I never thought in my life that I'd ever get married again ‘cause I was always so busy and never had time for it. I liked my life. I was satisfied with what was happening. But when I met Tim Wapato, he eventually asked me to marry him and I said, ‘Well, let me think,' and finally it was like a month later we were on a plane together going somewhere, Albuquerque or somewhere and I said yes. So we did get married. We got married...we've been together since 1990 and got married. We called this spiritual man at home Orville Looking Horse. He's keeper of our sacred pipe which is on the Sioux...sacred pipe of the Sioux Nation which is housed on my reservation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. So I called Orville and told him and he said...he didn't say anything. And of course you don't pressure spiritual leaders anyway so I thought, ‘Well, we'll just pray and see what happens.' And time got closer and closer. So meanwhile Tim had asked some of his spiritual leaders from the northwest and they said, ‘Well...' and it's a seven drum religion and they said, ‘We'd be happy to do it but we feel that we don't want to come into another spiritual man's area and you should start there first.' And so we didn't know what to do and one morning about 5:00 in the morning the phone rang and it was Orville. He didn't say, ‘We're going to do it,' or anything, he just told me what to do, what preparations I had to make to get ready. So we were married on the equinox of summer on June 22nd and Orville performed the ceremony. He brought sage from our sacred area there and green grass, it was a traditional ceremony. It was interesting because the tribe sent one of our cultural people to tape the ceremony and so for the next week or so our wedding played on our reservation and they showed...our wedding is part of the archives now of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe."
As a political couple in Indian Country, one a Democrat, one a Republican
"I think it's advantageous that Tim and I were in different backgrounds, he Republican, me Democrat, he in different areas of expertise than mine because when it comes down to it, when you advocate for Indian people it doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or Republican or Independent. What matters is that you get for Indian people what needs to get done. The same way with the issues that Tim worked in the past had always been environmental or law enforcement. Mine had always been education and administration. We figured out that we'd been at many of the same meetings but we'd never met. In our careers we could work both sides of the aisle because he being Republican he could work that way for Indian people and I could work the Democratic side of the aisle. Being nonpartisan I think is the best thing I think when things come together for Indian people."
In the early ‘90s as some of the tribes began gaming, some of the governors objected: the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) enters in
"The times were contentious and Senator Inouye was telling the tribes, he said, ‘You've got to come together on this.' It's a time much like today where there's a lot of adversarial problems thrown at Indians not because it's right or it's the truth but because there's a lot of anti Indian sentiment out there. So a friend of mine, Raquel, who was chairman at that time of the Oneida Nation was running for president of the National Indian Gaming Association and in those days NIGA, National Indian Gaming Association was kind of operated out of a shoebox. There was no office, it was kind of wherever the elected leader resided was where the office was. So when we were working for Sycuan Danny Tucker was chairman and they were looking at maybe trying to do some gaming and Indian people are always looking to bring in economic development for the people. So I said to him, ‘Well, why don't you run with Raquel on the National Indian Gaming Association.' I got up and went out of the room to go to the bathroom and here again the board was meeting and when I came back in Tim said to me, ‘You're the new Public Relations Director.' I said, ‘I am?' And he said, ‘Yes.' They'd asked Tim if he thought I would take it and Tim says, ‘Well, I don't speak for Gay Kingman,' he said. He said the right thing. So anyway they'd gone on to other issues and so finally they told me that I was the new Director of Public Relations for the National Indian Gaming Association and this is in direct response to Senator Inouye's telling tribes that they had to get it together, they had to come together and do some good education and media outreach on what their needs were and why they were wanting to go into gaming. It wasn't very long thereafter, I'd say maybe a couple of weeks that they'd asked Tim to be the Executive Director. So together then we remained in Washington, D.C. and Sycuan ended up donating our time to the National Indian Education Association and our mission at the time, the direction that they gave us was to set up the National Indian Gaming Association with an office in Washington, D.C. and the old advocacy and education to Congress and to the media and to, at that time, the governors because we were having such difficulty with the governors. So we moved...we remained in our townhouse. We lived just a few blocks from the capitol and we had our office set up within our townhouse. Our computer was in our living room and our fax was on the dining room table...no, our fax was on the kitchen table, on our dining room table we had some of our other things. But we hit the ground running. We didn't have any time to take a breather because things were happening within each state. There were real problems with the governors, they didn't want the Indians to do gaming, the Indians were saying, ‘Well, we can...within the state you're doing gaming, why can't we.' And there were lawsuits that were going on. Many, many of the states were really having contentious situations. Anyway, this whole scenario was going on and finally the Cabazon case had come down saying that if a tribe...if its state is doing gaming then the tribe can too. So I want to say all hell broke loose and it was, it was just all over then. The governors were complaining to President Clinton saying, ‘You can't let that happen. It's immoral, these Indians can't do gaming, they couldn't regulate, who are they.' So we were dealing with this whole thing and then at the same time Donald Trump through Congressman Torricelli had introduced legislation to deny Indian gaming to the tribes saying that they couldn't. And so we were having to deal with that too. Hearings were set up and the House Interior and Insular Affairs was to hold a hearing so we brought in, we got Indian people to come in. Grandmas came in and elderly and children came in. We just really...people wanted to protect what they had and it wasn't by any means near what we have in gaming today. It was real small scale but yet they knew that they were making money on it and it was good revenue and it was economic development and they needed to keep it. So we set up the hearing and I put...I researched Donald Trump's yacht and got a big picture of it and put it outside the hearing room door and at the same time got a picture of the school at Mille Lacs that they financed with Indian gaming proceeds. And Senator Inouye and Senator McCain came over, here again our star warriors came over and testified in support of Indian gaming and then it was Donald Trump's turn. And the chairman of the committee and that time, it was a Democrat, was Congressman George Miller from California. And Congressman Miller, I don't know if you know him but he's a very strong supporter of Indians and civil rights of people and he's also a very strong personality physically. He's a big man and very articulate and so they...when Trump got up to testify, Congressman Miller started asking him his questions and Trump had a very politically correct speech written but as he listened to Senator Inouye and McCain and some of the Indians testify he was getting angrier and you could just see him. He was writing on the side of his speech and then all at once he just crumpled it up and tossed it. So we didn't know what was going on and here was Donald Trump getting angrier. And so when George Miller started asking him questions, he just let it out. There was nothing politically correct about what he had and he called...he said, ‘Well, those Indians don't even look like Indians,' and he meant some of the Indians on the east coast eluding to that they were mixed Black. And George Miller, you don't fight with the chairman in his own committee and it was the most astounding thing that happened. And after Donald Trump testified, his people pulled him right out because they knew what he had done. And we had videotaped...I had videotaped the whole thing and so when Donald Trump left, the press followed him and Tim and Rick Hill were outside standing in front of these pictures of the School vs. Yachts and they held a press conference. And both Rick Hill and Tim Wapato are very articulate and extemporaneous speakers and they can think on their feet and they held the best press conference. And I immediately took the videotape over to a studio and viewed it and pulled out the excerpt of Donald Trump and him opening his mouth and getting in a fight with the chairman and we put that up on satellite feed and got it to all of the major networks by the 6:00 news and it repeated again on the 10:00 news. We made a seven second video of it. We got that out to all of the areas that had remote stations so they could get it too and it played nationwide. We called the legislation, the anti Indian gaming legislation, we renamed it the Donald Trump Protection Act. And so after that happened, that episode, no congressman or senator wanted to touch it and in fact it failed in committee. We won big. We defeated the anti Indian gaming legislation but by no means were we out of the woods because there were a lot of battles yet. All of the governors were still crying because Indians were beginning to game in their states. It was the early stages."
The National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act had passed in 1988
"Here again we won a lot in it but we lost our sovereignty in the way that...Indians have always been able to game. We've gamed since time immemorial. We've had our stick games, we've had all of our games but when it came down to organized gaming I guess or slots or gaming that the states realized we were going to get some revenue out of then they wanted to deny it. So in the Indian Gaming Act that passed the Congress allowed the states to enter into a compact with Indians to do gaming. It was an erosion of our sovereignty because Indians have always been able to do gaming. Now we had to go to the state and work on a compact to do gaming and in some states they even refused to do that, they refused to do a compact and in some states it wasn't a negotiation, it was a dictatorial relationship like in my state of South Dakota. The governor just said, ‘We're dictating this is how it is, take it or leave it.' And the tribes took it. In my state there's not a lot of revenue out of gaming anyway because we just don't have the market, we don't have the populations. In this state of Arizona Governor Fife Symington, the tribes eventually even had to go to negotiated rule making on getting a compact. Governor Fife Symington would not do a compact with the tribes. This is a time when Tim and I were running night and day. We were in all of the states sporadically depending on where the hot spot was at that time and working with the tribes locally and then we'd do a lot of media outreach to call attention to the issue. We were back in the office and we would get reams and reams of fax papers from the different areas."
Educating Congress on the issue of taxing and Indians; the role of Congressman Hayworth
"One of the other things that happened was Bill Archer, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, decided that he was going to tax Indian gaming so he came out with language saying that he was going to tax Indian gaming. Tim and I happened to be in, I think we were in Spokane at the time and we turned our phone off that night cause we were so tired and that morning when we turned it back on we had like 60 messages and it was all because this had broken just that afternoon which in D.C. was late afternoon and we didn't get it. And so we immediately headed back to D.C. but Tim as Executive Director immediately put onboard two people who were tax experts. We held training sessions for staffers on why Indians don't pay tax and why we don't pay tax is tribes were sovereign before anyone ever came to this United States. After the Constitution was set up based upon the tribes and the confederacy on the east, in there the Commerce clause were in there that you don't pay taxes and it's in a lot of our treaties. I'm from a tribe that has a treaty and this is our land, we gave...we got our land reduced because of the influx of non-Indian people across this United States and the treaties we signed that this would be our land for time immemorial, it can't be taxed due to the Constitution and due to our sovereignty that we've always had and yet this was what Bill Archer was trying to do. And so we tried, we really tried to educate each member of the Ways and Means Committee. Now if you've ever worked with the Ways and Means Committee it's called Gucci Gulch because the Ways and Means Committee handles all of the big money in the United States, the airlines and they handle everything that is huge money and the people that work there, they wear very fine clothes. And here we were kind of a rag tag little group of Indians trying to educate Congress and if they needed something we had a piece of paper telling them that this is it. Then meanwhile Congressman Hayworth from Arizona, this state, was a new congressman and then we said, ‘Well, you can't just educate him, he's got to carry this.' So Ivan Makil who was chairman at Salt River Tribe at that time, a young, astute chairman, really saw the danger in this and so he came and worked with us side by side. Every time Congressman Hayworth would kind of waiver a little, Ivan would be right there because these were his constituency could do it best. So when it came time to vote Chairman Archer had commissioned a report from GSA on why tribes should pay taxes and meanwhile J.D. Hayworth, while Congressman Archer was waving this GSA report on why tribes should pay taxes, and when it was Hayworth's time to speak he pulled the Constitution of the United States out of his pocket and he said, ‘It says right here in the Constitution of the United States,' and he gave the section and everything and he said, ‘that Indians do not pay taxes.' And he slammed it down on the table and he said, ‘I'll take the Constitution of the United States over any old GSA report anytime.' And you're not supposed to clap or anything in the committee but there was applause. And finally it came time to the vote and this was like 3:00 in the morning and so Tim said, ‘I'm going to go stand up there and look them in the eye because if they're going to vote against us, I'm going to see who it is.' So he went up there and he stood like this and looked them in the eye as each came time for roll call vote, which congressmen had asked for and when it came time for the final vote it was in our favor, we had won. Indian tribes would not be taxed and it has not come up again. We had won such a victory in the Ways and Means Committee and...Indian tribes historically don't go to that committee, we go to Education or we go to Interior and Insular Affairs or we go to the Senate Indian Affairs but that's a committee we don't usually work. When we won there and we won big, we were immediately celebrities almost. People were calling us, our phone was ringing off the hook but there were so many issues again."
Gaming, misperceptions and prejudice
"In response to Indians are getting rich I think out of 560 some tribes nationwide there's still only 200 and some that do gaming and of those 200 and some that do gaming there's only a few that have the very wealthy gaming that we hear about. My tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, doesn't have any gaming at all. The tribes in South Dakota that do have gaming like the Oglalas, they're not getting rich. They make just barely enough to make payroll and maybe have a little income to the tribal general fund, the revenue fund. We don't have the population. You've got to have the population and the market to do gaming. This tribe here, Gila River, they have access to all of the Phoenix area, there's a huge population. And in the wintertime when we get all the snowbirds, it nearly doubles. So this tribe here has access to all that population and that market and so I would imagine here that their gaming is very, very...the revenue that they generate is very high. So that's one thing, it's a misnomer that all tribes are rich. But all my life this is what I've had to deal with, whether it's this misnomer about Indians are rich or this misnomer that we're drunken Indians or this misnomer that we're dumb. These are misnomers that all my life that I've tried to educate people on that Indian people are like everyone else, we have our good people, we have our bad people, we have unfortunates, we have wealthy. It's the sprinkling of America and I would love to have the opportunity to talk to people about these ideas that they have that need correction."
Moving to Scottsdale, Gay and Tim take her aging father in
"At that time he was only 98 and he loved Arizona. And he was getting along really well and he'd go out and sit on the patio all morning and watch the birds and he just really loved the weather and the climate. And then after he reached 100 we thought we better move back home and take him back to South Dakota so he could be near his relatives and people could come visit him ‘cause everyone was wondering how he was. This man was getting on up in age and they wanted to see him. So we moved back to South Dakota and I'd had a home there since early ‘80s and so we just moved back and began renovating it and my father was able to visit friends and relatives. Of course at his age a lot of his close friends had moved on. I took care of my father and I was really happy. I'm so glad to have done it. There were some hard times, some things he didn't understand and he couldn't hear and he was getting very, very forgetful, sometimes he didn't know us. Most of the time he was in real good shape. He ate very, very well. He loved his oatmeal every morning and he ate almost around the clock little bitty meals. He didn't like to go to bed. They say as you get older that you revert back to your childhood and he did. He was like a child. He was like my baby. But we had such remarkable times with him too. His bedroom was down one level. I have a level house and one morning he came up and he says, ‘Oh, I made it.' And then he looked at Tim and I and he said, ‘I don't know what I'm going to do when I get old.' And at that time he was probably 103. He was great."
Tradition, politics, concerns for the future
"Well, first of all I think it's only been one world and that's my spiritual world that's kept me strong. The way I was born and raised my parents brought me up to be very spiritual and whether it's the Catholic religion, which I was raised in but also the traditional religion. And so that's been what's kept me strong through everything. Everything else just fell in line with the spiritual way whether it's been the politics or advocacy or working in the non-Indian world, that's all tied in with the spiritualism. We're in a very similar situation as we were in 1993 when we were asked to take over the National Indian Gaming Association. The tone of the country is the same way. There's a lot of anti-Indian movements going on, we're getting beat up in the press. The tribes are stronger I think in many ways and then some of the tribes have a lot of capital to deal with these issues. But with capital comes also a lot of demands and so say for example some of the California tribes although they have a lot of revenue coming in from the gaming, the demands for that revenue have increased. Meanwhile in Congress we still have some of our friends. Senator Inouye is still there, Senator McCain is still there. We might have some new friends but we also have a lot that don't understand Indians that aren't friendly either. I think we need better education of Congress. And a lot that has spilled over from gaming is hurting us like on the east coast some of the tribes that have tried to do gaming. It's spilling over into what we call federal acknowledgement. One of the main problems we're faced with is within our own ranks as Indian people. I think we need to come together better. I don't want to say unity because we're always talking unity but going back to spiritualism and traditions and culture, I'm a firm believer that that's where we need to be. And with money comes prestige and all of the...I think some of the people with money want to embrace right away all the glitz and glitter of the non-Indian world, which is fine but don't lose your traditions and your culture cause that's who we are as a people. I see a lot of our young people who are floundering because they're going into gangs or they're taking drugs or alcohol. If they had their traditions and the cultures and the values that came from...that were taught in those, they wouldn't need that. And so that's I guess some of the problems that I see on the horizon that we're faced with."
Erosions to sovereignty
"Yeah, I think it's a steady drip. I mentioned earlier the demands on the tribe because they now have a lot of money. For example the California tribes, they're small, maybe a few hundred people in a tribe and so the county is coming at them saying, ‘Well, we need money for roads, we need money for law protection,' so the tribes are negotiating with them to do that, which is fine but in a way it's eroding the sovereignty because they don't have to do that. They should be sovereign within themselves. It's also spilling off into other tribes like mine, my tribe because we don't negotiate with the county. We do to the point where we might have a mutual understanding but we don't give up any part of our sovereignty. We have a bill right now that's being floated around in Indian Country. It's called the Sovereignty Protection Act. I'm very fearful of it because what it's doing is...there are several sections in there that aren't very good like putting land into the PILT, the payment in lieu of taxes, saying that if you have trust land which isn't taxed then the United States Government will pay the county or the state in lieu of that land so they still get some money. Well, this is none other but taxation again, an attempted taxation and it's wrong because as I explained earlier it's our sovereign right, that land is ours in our treaties and in our heritage and it's ours, it shouldn't be taxed. But this legislation would allow that and tribes should rise up and deny this and it's floating around within our midst by our own people."
Gay's sons continue the family's legacy
"My sons have followed in the path that was set by my ancestors, which is the responsibility we have to our Indian people. My one son is, as I mentioned earlier Vernon Robertson has his degree in business but he's gone on. He works for the Mille Lacs tribe and he's in there...he's Vice President of the Business and Economic Development, I'm not sure of his exact title. He's carried on. All of his positions have been to make things better for Indian people in the business world. Chuck, my other son, Chuck Robertson, with his degree in law is working also to make things better for Indian people. He's Executive Director of the National Tribal Judges Association and he works with all of the tribal judges nationwide in their respective areas. That was the other thing I forgot in the spiel that I mentioned that's floating around Indian Country that's so bad for us is the...in the legal area, which would provide federal court review of our tribal courts and this is wrong because like my tribe and our tribal courts are just as good or better than courts off the reservation. We'd be the first to jump on our own tribal courts and improve them if something went wrong and so the regulatory factor is very important. So I'm very proud of my sons in that they've carried on the tradition that I've tried to carry on in my life."
Gay lectures in Madrid at a Human Rights forum chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu
"What I learned was that there were other Indigenous people that are in the same category that we're in in our country. On June 25th of this year we'll be laying the memorial for the Indians that fought and died at Little Big Horn. My people, the Minneconjou Lakota, were the people that were totally annihilated at Wounded Knee, men, women and children. The children were followed up ravines and killed. The women were brutally mutilated and raped. For our people to have come through that and to have lived and to have survived is tremendous. And I like to think that my little part of the world where I've worked has had a hand in assisting with the improvement of human rights for Indian people. But I found out that it doesn't have to do with Indigenous I guess, with being a minority within a large majority. You're not respected and you're denied a lot of things. Our school systems on the reservation, if you look at the SAT scores, most of the school systems on the reservation are far below those off the reservation and it's not because the children are dumb it's just that they have less opportunities afforded them. These are all...there's so much to get done. In my life I guess I've tried to work on some of them."
A hope for the future and a legacy that could be shared
"I'd like to see our sovereignty have true sovereignty where we're self-sufficient and our tribes are self-sufficient and our people aren't in poverty. My tribe and some of the tribes in the Great Sioux Nation live in, by the U.S. Census, some of the highest poverty in the United States, the counties that they're in and that shouldn't be in this United States with all of the wealth. When you think that we were self-sufficient here before the coming of the White Man, we had strong values that of fortitude and generosity and all of these things that kept us strong and I'd like to see that shared but until all people in this United States become out of poverty and self-sufficient, that would be my dream."
The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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