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Phoenix Indian Center to honor Ernie Stevens, Sr. with the coveted Leon Grant Spirit of Community Award


April 21, 2017

The Phoenix Indian Center (PIC) announced several weeks ago that they will present their coveted 2017 Leon Grant Spirit of the Community Award to Ernie Stevens, Sr. at their Silver and Turquoise Ball on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona.

The award, established in 2013, is named after the late Leon Grant, a founding member and first Executive Director of the Phoenix Indian Center. Each year, an individual or organization is recognized for their service, commitment, and dedication to the greater good of the American Indian community.

"We are elated to honor Mr. Stevens Sr. with the 2017 Leon Grant Award," said Patti Hibbeler, CEO for the Phoenix Indian Center. "His work on behalf of American Indians over many decades has positively impacted our community as a whole, he is a true trailblazer," added Hibbeler.

Ernie Stevens Sr., a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, has advocated for sovereignty, self-determination, self-governance, and Native rights for over forty years. He is perhaps one of the most self-willed political Indian activists during the 1960's and 1970's.

Accepting the award on behalf of his father will be Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. Chairman Stevens stated "It is a great honor for me to accept this award on behalf of my father. He will always be remembered for serving Indian Country selflessly during a time when we were leaving one federal Indian policy era and entering into the next. As termination was ending and self-determination and self-governance were in Indian Country's sights, it has become evident that my father played a primary role in the battle, and for that, I am humbled."

Coming from humble beginnings, Stevens, Sr. began a profound rise to national recognition at a time of great change in Indian Country. He remains a charismatic figure to many tribes, Indian leaders, and many Indian people, particularly in Arizona, where his early professional years left a significant imprint.

The elder Stevens is a US Marine Corps combat veteran who served four years in Korea while earning the rank of Staff Sergeant at the age of 19. In the mid-1950's Ernie moved to Los Angeles where, as a young man fresh out of military service to his country, found great struggles and challenges. He would meet Joe Vasquez, a man who would become one of his closest friends in life in the professional and political world. Joe picked up Ernie and got him back on his feet and together they would work throughout Los Angeles and Indian Country helping people, promoting Indian business, and moving Indian Country forward.

While in Los Angeles, Ernie would serve in several organizational leadership roles which included the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Indian Center and the Executive Director of the Institute for Community Anti-Poverty Corporation. He also served as a Los Angeles Human Rights Commissioner to then-Mayor Sam Yorty. It was a position that would springboard Stevens onto the national scene.

In the mid-1960's Ernie Stevens Sr. would move to Tempe, Arizona and work as the Executive Director for the Indian Action Project and work with Tribes in the economic and community development arena. While in Arizona, he was invited by the Ford Foundation to participate in an exchange program that sent him to New Zealand, along with nine other Indian men, to tour Maori native communities and exchange ideas and develop recommendations concerning health; education; housing; socio-economic; economic development; and, governance and language issues. Simultaneously, ten Maori men traveled to Indian Country, and upon completion of their assignment, they all met in New Zealand to debrief and deliver their joint report. Their work would be considered a model and standard for Indian Country as well as the Indigenous People of New Zealand.

In 1969 Ernie Stevens Sr. accepted the position of Executive Director for the Inter-Tribal Council of California where he is still well-known and revered among California elders for his work. It was here when he was recruited by the late Louis Bruce, former Federal Commissioner of Indian Affairs and would become an integral part of a team of eleven Indian men that would change the course of policy issues toward Indians and Indian Tribes. While at the Bureau, Ernie Stevens Sr. would serve as Development Director, Community Development Director, and Acting Commissioner. Several key issues initiated and implemented at that time were the concepts of contracting and Indian Preference.

Following his tenure at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ernie Stevens Sr. would go on to be elected First Vice-President to the National Congress of American Indians; serve as the Executive Director of the American Indian Policy Review Commission; and fulfill an appointment by Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota as the first Staff Director to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. While serving as Staff Director for the American Indian Policy Review Commission, Ernie Stevens, Sr. would lead a staff of over 200, primarily young and educated Indians, to research, compile and deliver the most comprehensive study regarding Indian Country since the Meriam Report in 1928.

Ernie Stevens Sr. would later work as Economic Development Director for the Navajo Nation and upon returning home to Oneida, he would fulfill his duties as an elected Councilman on the Oneida Business Committee and later as Economic Development Director for the Nation. While serving as Economic Development Director for the Tribe, Ernie suffered a debilitating aneurysm that left him unable to continue his work. Today, Ernie Stevens Sr. resides at the Anna John Resident Care Community Facility on the Oneida Reservation.

Past honorees of the Leon Grant Spirit of the Community Award include the late Leon Grant, Joe Garagiola, Sr. and the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, Dr. Eddie Brown, and Dr. John Tippeconnic.

The annual Silver & Turquoise Ball is a signature charity fundraiser for the PIC and raises money and awareness to support the non-profit organization that has enriched the lives of nearly a million people since its inception in 1947. Services and programs provided range from job preparedness and prevention programs, to cultural enrichment, youth programming, and community engagement.

Celebrating their 70th anniversary, the PIC event will also feature a premier American Indian art live and silent auction, a one-of-a-kind cultural dining experience prepared by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian executive chef, Freddie Bitsoie, plus a variety of culturally-based entertainment throughout the evening.

Individual tickets and table sponsorships for the 2017 Silver & Turquoise Ball can be purchased at or by calling (602) 264-6768.


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