NCAI to Honor Distinguished Champions of Indian Country

Published on Jan 18, 2019

NCAI to Honor Distinguished Champions of Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. | On Tuesday, February 12, 2019, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) will honor five distinguished champions of Indian Country at its 21st Annual Leadership Awards Ceremony during NCAI’s Executive Council Winter Session (ECWS). NCAI bestows the awards annually on individuals, groups, or organizations who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in service to tribal nations, communities, and sovereignty.

“Each of this year’s awardees has made a positive indelible, positive impact on Indian Country,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel. “We owe them a debt of gratitude for their immense contributions to tribal nations, and this event will commemorate and honor the difference they have made on Indian Country’s behalf.”

Each year, NCAI receives nominations for awardees in several award categories, including the Native American Leadership Award, Public Sector Leadership Award, Congressional Leadership Award, Government Leadership Award, and Special Recognition Award. This year’s honorees are below:

Native American Leadership Award: Heather Kendall-Miller, Attorney, Native American Rights Fund
Heather Kendall-Miller, an Alaska Native (Athabascan), has long served as senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in its Anchorage, Alaska office. In 2018, she received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. A lawyer, teacher, and mentor, her legal experience includes cases involving subsistence rights, tribal sovereignty, human rights, and taxation. In 2001, Heather was instrumental in winning Katie John v. Norton, a subsistence hunting and fishing rights case. She has worked with other Alaska Native communities like the Native Village of Venetie, the Native Village of Kluti-Kaah, the Native Village of Barrow, and the Nome Eskimo community.

Public Sector Leadership Award: Robert D. Manfred, Jr., Commissioner, Major League Baseball
Rob Manfred became Commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) in January 2015. Early on in his tenure as Commissioner, Manfred worked with the Major League Baseball Players Association to establish a new policy governing domestic violence offenses committed by the league’s players and employees. He also actively engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Indian Country regarding offensive Native “themed” sports mascots, which culminated in his crafting of the league’s decision in January 2018 to have its Cleveland franchise transition away from using the Chief Wahoo mascot and logo.

Congressional Leadership Award: Ken Calvert, U.S. House of Representatives
Congressman Calvert currently represents the 42nd U.S. Congressional District in southern California and has played an instrumental role in the House Appropriations Committee as Chairman of its Interior and the Environment Subcommittee prior to the 116th Congress. In this capacity, he was a champion for Indian Country, tirelessly advancing the fiscal priorities of tribal nations in the federal budget process each year. He also successfully sponsored a water rights settlement agreement for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, who reside in his district.

Governmental Leadership Award: Eugenia Tyner-Dawson, Senior Policy Adviser, U.S. Department of the Interior
Eugenia Tyner-Dawson currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor for the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. A member of the Sac and Fox Nation and a descendent of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, she previously served in the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Executive Director for DOJ’s Justice Programs Council on Native American Affairs, and also as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for Tribal Affairs. For 11 years, she worked with her own tribal nation, directing numerous tribal programs and volunteering as a deputy court clerk, and reserve police officer. She also served as the Acting Executive Director for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Intradepartmental Council on Native American Affairs, and as Acting Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service.

Special Recognition Award: Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
A tribal nation located in Prior Lake, Minnesota, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community created Seeds of Native Health, a multifaceted national campaign that seeks to improve Native American nutrition through grant-making, sharing of best practices, capacity building, sponsored research, and educational initiatives. Shakopee and Seeds of Native Health played a central role in the establishment and efforts of the Native Farm Bill Coalition, which successfully worked to secure critical tribal provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill, notably the expansion of 638 tribal contracting authority for Tribal Forest Management Protection Act management activities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

For Press:
Interested in covering the event? Register here. This is a specific registration for press and is not a registration ticket for the dinner or associated activities. Contact NCAI Press with any questions at


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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