Announcing NCAI's 18th Annual Leadership Awardees

Published on Feb 11, 2016

Announcing NCAI’s 18th Annual Leadership Awardees 

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has announced the winners of its 18th Annual Leadership Awards. These awards are presented to individuals who have provided extraordinary service to Indian Country. NCAI President Cladoosby reflected on this year’s awardees, stating, “It is important to recognize those that support and stand up for Indian Country. These awardees are true champions for Indian Country and I am honored to have them standing with us.”

Congressional Leadership Award – Representative Betty McCollum
Representative Betty McCollum has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2000 and represents the 4th District of Minnesota. A member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she was the first woman to be elected to Congress in Minnesota. As Congress has constrained federal budget funding, she has worked diligently to uphold the federal trust responsibility regarding federal appropriations for tribes. In 2013, she was elected as the Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

Government Leadership Award – Kevin Washburn
Kevin Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, worked tirelessly to implement policies supporting tribal self-determination and self-governance during his three-year stint as Assistant of Secretary of Indian Affairs in the Obama Administration. His many achievements during his tenure include the formulation of Indian Child Welfare Act regulations, the Ramah settlement, improving the federal acknowledgement process, updating right-of-way regulations and the land-into-trust process, and amending regulations in Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act enabling the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust in Alaska.

Native American Leadership Award – Byron Mallott
Byron Mallott, Tlingit, became the second Alaska Native elected as Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alaska in 2014. He formerly served as Area Vice President for Alaska for NCAI, mayor of Juneau, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and Executive Director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. Lt. Governor Mallott started his career in public service at the young age of 22 when he was elected mayor of Yakutat, Alaska. His public leadership and in-depth knowledge of and advocacy for Alaska Native issues are unparalleled.

Public Sector Leadership Award – Mike Wise
Mike Wise is a senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, a digital media of ESPN which intersects sports, race and culture. Prior to joining ESPN, Mr. Wise was a Washington Post sportswriter and columnist for 11 years. He has been covering the Washington NFL team mascot issue for over two decades, and has strongly advocated that the name be changed, writing numerous columns calling on others to join Native Americans working to change the name.  He has spoken at numerous conferences and symposiums denouncing the NFL and other racist sports team monikers and caricatures.

Special Recognition Award – Jesse Witten
Jesse Witten is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.  Since 2010, he has been the lead attorney in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., where he represents five young Native Americans pro bono in a legal challenge to the trademark registrations of the Washington NFL team. Drinker Biddle and Mr. Witten have successfully persuaded the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that the team’s trademarks were not eligible for registration because they disparage Native Americans.  Mr. Witten and his law firm are currently handling the team’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Special Recognition Award – Sherry Salway Black
Sherry Salway Black, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, is a pioneer in the fields of Indian Country asset building and private sector development. From 2007 to 2014, she served as the first Director of NCAI’s Partnership for Tribal Governance, which works to increase, enhance, organize, and make accessible the resources necessary to support tribes’ efforts to strengthen their governance systems. She is the former Senior Vice President of First Nations Development Institute, a Native-led nonprofit organization that works to improve the economic condition of Native Americans through promoting business development and financial literacy. In the 1970s, she worked for the American Indian Policy Review Commission, whose final report submitted to Congress in 1977 is widely regarded as a key springboard for many of the self-determination policy advancements of the 1980s and 1990s. Her other previous work experience includes various positions with the Indian Health Service, and as a researcher for a Congressional commission studying issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. She recently concluded her appointment on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

Tribal Exchange Stock Market Game
The Tribal Exchange Stock Market Game is a ten-week program for American Indian and Alaska Native students attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. The Tribal Exchange is designed to teach future tribal leaders financial management skills needed to lead their tribal governments into the future.

Tribal Exchange Stock Market Game Awardees – Jovan Grandson and Avery Black
Mr. Grandson and Mr. Black are both seniors from the Navajo Nation. They currently attend Monument Valley High School in Arizona and participated in the Tribal Exchange Game with their advisor Antoinette Dee. There were 34 teams participating in this year’s game with the Mr. Grandson and Mr. Black team reporting a total equity of $101,547.48.

The awards ceremony will be held during the banquet dinner on Tuesday, February 23, of the 2016 NCAI Executive Council Winter Session. The ceremony and dinner are ticketed events.


About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit 

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