By Clara Silva, journalist and collaborator from G&M News
How would you describe and sum up NNAHRA’s main activities and goals?
I have been serving on the board of directors of NNAHRA for nearly 10 years. I was originally drawn to NNAHRA, because its membership and board of directors were all individuals working in tribal human resources or leadership for a tribe or tribal enterprise. That was important, because as HR professionals or Tribal leaders we must ensure that the decision we make and implement in no way contradict or jeopardize a Tribe’s sovereignty. The Vision of the National Native American Human Resources Association is to be recognized and valued as a leader in human resources and tribal leadership educational resources for Indian Country. It is important that Tribe’s receive current information and education that will progress one’s personal development as well as the development and success of a Tribal Government and their businesses which leads, supports and sustains self-sufficiency, the right to govern and overall tribal sovereignty.
In this 25 years’ anniversary, what you consider this organization has achieved so far?
An increased number of memberships, awareness of how policies and practices can positively or negatively impact a tribal property and education on the applicable laws, agreements and compacts that one must refer to and be knowledgeable of to ensure efficiencies within your tribe. Also, recognition of great tribal programs and great leaders at our annual conferences.
In addition to NNAHRA, you also personally have anniversaries: 40 years since you began your career in human resources, 20 years since you joined Valley View Casino & Hotel in California, and else. What does this represent to you?
40 years in human resources is a huge milestone and so much has happened and evolved since the days when this essential function was referred to as “Personnel”. I am dating myself, but back in my early career we used an IBM Selectric with carbon paper to make copies. Technology changed everything and the need to be open to change was imperative. Today, I am still researching new methods, new technology, and new initiatives and continue to support on-going learning.
I was very fortunate to start my career for a corporation who believed in developing their team and a company that represented a positive work environment. The core values of Hewlett-Packard are forever instilled in me and I carry on and practice those values today and have implemented similar practices at Valley View Casino & Hotel. These past 20 years at VVCH have flown by and if anything, it is important to me to recognize not only my big accomplishments but also to celebrate the small wins. I am grateful for every person and every event in my life because they made me who I am. I once thought I had my life mapped out, my mother, once told me, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him what you have planned with your life. Life happens and doesn’t go as planned.” I think back to that conversation, and the statement “Life happens.” We as individuals have to be ready for the unknown, to reinvent our processes, ourselves, or our businesses.
I found it is so important to share your knowledge and experience with others. You can’t move on if you don’t have a successor in place. Help others be their best and carry on to do even better things when you decide to move on. In addition, it is so important to ensure you have identified a successor at all levels
In times of pandemic, with the loss of thousands of jobs, both in gaming and other industries, how NNAHRA has helped the Indian Country to recover?
The years 2020 and 2021 have been unsettling to say the least. We were watching our state and country make mandates which were unprecedented and quite frankly, were changing daily. People were frightened and businesses were unsure of how this would impact them. What I found, is that it was the was human resources professionals who were looked to on how to proceed with the workforce. Do we lay people off? Do we furlough? How do we bring employees back? Do we have to bring everyone back? What should we consider when we bring our employees back? There were so many questions. As NNAHRA board members, we all work in a tribal enterprise and we were experiencing those situations and questions ourselves. NNAHRA found themselves being a vital resource for all of the tribal properties. We worked with our partners and provided legislative updates, shared best practices, provided legal perspectives and communicated with virtual events and written communications. Now, nearly 18 months later we are re speaking to the hiring crisis, retention strategies and working differently.
As a co-founder of Valley View’s Women at Work program, can you tell us about how did this initiative started?
Woman@Work evolved from a series of mentoring sessions that a fellow female vice president and I were conducting with our properties newer leaders. I found that many of our younger leaders would ask, “How did you know you wanted to be an Executive or pursue the human resources field in your early career? I soon realized that many of the individual that were asking, thought I had it all figured out from day one, which was so far from the truth. What they didn’t realize, is sometimes a career chooses you. Sometimes the different pathways are what open doors. Had it not been for the obstacles, life events and challenges I faced in my personal and work life, my life may be different and I may have been a different person than I am today.
Women@Work was created to share, mentor, inspire and support up and coming women in their career. It’s a program I’m very proud of and I’ve even shared the foundation and structure to help launch other, women leadership programs, such as TGPN’s Women’s Symposium.
I’m grateful for my life and for who I am and work to be a better person every day.
What are your concerns regarding working women in the gaming industry? Is equality respected in all workplaces? What’s the women’s role in tribal gaming?
Unfortunately, inequality is still present and will be until we learn to speak up for what is right. The gaming industry can still be perceived as a “good ole boys” environment and tribal gaming can be perceived as political but whatever the case, we as women have to have the skill to communicate effectively. We must be able to speak to what we are observing, what we are experiencing, and yes, what we are feeling. Some would say this puts you in a vulnerable position, but I have found that with vulnerability comes new strength.
What’s your point of view on current job opportunities for tribal nations’ members in the United States? Can online gaming and sports betting be segments that boost employment possibilities within tribes?
The job opportunities for tribal nations are endless. In fact, we have so many opportunities we rely heavily on recruiting non-natives to our properties, which we are grateful for their interest. However, it is our responsibility as tribal employers to ensure that everyone is educated on the laws of the tribe you are working for. As far as online gaming and sports betting, absolutely they can boost opportunities and time will tell if tribe’s use third-parties or staff the positions themselves.
What are future NNAHRA projects and what challenges will the gaming industry face over the next couple of years?
Future projects for NNAHRA are focused on educational resources, policy, and legislative and administration updates on issues affecting tribal businesses and leadership. We recently added two grant writers to our team to pursue new grants that support our initiatives. We are also excited to be designing a scholarship program for students pursuing a degree in Tribal Human Resources, tribal employment law or a similar field. The future and possibilities are great and endless.