NAFOA Announces Leadership Awards at Organization’s 37th Annual Conference


NAFOA Announces Leadership Awards at Organization’s 37th Annual Conference

April 15, 2019

Portland, OR. (April 16, 2019) – The Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) hosted its 12th Annual Leadership Awards Luncheon during the 37th Annual Conference at the Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel. NAFOA presented its first Leadership Awards in 2008 and continues to honor innovative and dedicated tribal leaders, tribal financial professionals, educational programs and landmark financial deals that advance tribal economies.

“The NAFOA Leadership Awards celebrate excellence in advancing tribal economies. Each year we are continually amazed by the advocacy and dedication of our honorees on behalf of their local communities and Indian country,” said NAFOA 1st Vice President, VaRene Martin.

The luncheon attracted an audience of over 500, as NAFOA’s federal, tribal and professional partners convened to celebrate the 2019 awardees’ service and excellence in tribal economic development.

Education Program of the Year

 The University of Washington Foster School of Business – Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Management Certificate Program is the 2019 recipient of the Education Program of the Year Award. This award honors a creative and effective education program that furthers knowledge and understanding of business, economic development or related fields. In partnership with the American Indian Studies Department at The University of Washington, the Foster School of Business’ Consulting and Business Development Center offers a ten-credit certificate program in Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Management. The majority of the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington state operate a gaming facility, whether a small casino or a full-service resort. While other colleges and universities offer casino management programs, this is the only tribal-gaming specific certificate program offered by a non-tribal affiliated college or university that works to improve the financial skills and support professional advancement for employees of tribal casinos and resorts. The Certificate program provides an important pathway to help prepare the next generation of leaders for tribal casinos in the Northwest by combining general business education with issues specifically relevant to Tribal Gaming businesses to create a unique learning environment.

Small Deal of the Year

NAFOA awarded the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota and their economic development organization, Ogaakaaning Enterprises (OE), with the 2019 Small Deal the Year Award for their Red Lake Trading Post Grocery Store Project. This award recognizes a small tribal deal or financial venture completed during the last year and should be original in structure and with terms innovative for the tribe. The current Red Lake Trading Post (RLTP) is a full-service grocery with a deli, smoke shop, and fuel station. In 2015, OE started approaching partners about replacing the trading post with a new facility. In May 2018, Native American Bank along with their partners officially closed the loan to Red Lake Retail Center, Inc. (RLRC) to build a new grocery store on the Red Lake Reservation. The loan closing marked a national milestone as the first deal of its kind to pair the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Business & Industry guaranty on a project located on tribal trust land where the ground lease will serve as collateral. The new Red Lake Trading Grocery Store will increase the store square footage and provide an expanded selection of healthy grocery products. The RLTP will directly compete with enterprises that offer similar services off the reservation that require current residents to make a 60+ mile round trip. In addition to keeping community dollars closer to home and boosting the tribal economy, the project is estimated to create 45 construction jobs, 20 new permanent jobs, and retain 30 permanent jobs from the existing store. The new grocery store is projected to cost $10.3M and is currently under construction with an estimated completion date of May 2019.


NAFOA awarded the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria in California with the 2019 Large Deal of the Year Award for securing $450 million in Note Financing for construction of their Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain in Yuba County, California. This deal is the culmination of a 17-year effort by tribal leadership to establish a casino. To fund the construction of the casino, the tribe issued $450 million aggregate principal amount of 12 percent senior secured notes in July 2018, due in 2024. The casino—a joint project with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, owners of Hard Rock International—will be the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria’s first tribally owned enterprise. The roughly 320,000-square-foot project will include a casino, meeting facilities, an eight-story hotel tower with 152 rooms, and dining amenities. Once constructed, the tribe anticipates that the casino will employ 1,300-1,400 people. The project is expected to generate $281 million in yearly economic activity and $86 million over 20 years in local community and public funding. To pull funding for their project, the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria were assisted by Wells Fargo Securities, Wells Fargo Bank N.A., Seminole Tribe of Florida and Hard Rock International, Latham & Watkins, Sheppard Mullin, Maier Pfeffer Kim Geary, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. NAFOA is proud to recognize the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria for their years of determination to make their new casino a reality.

Executive of the Year

NAFOA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2019 Executive of the Year Award is Jean Swift. Swift is a former Treasurer of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council and served on the Tribal Council from October 24, 2013, to December 31, 2018. During much of that time, Treasurer Swift chaired the Tribe’s Finance Committee and Economic Development Committee. She also served as Vice Chairwoman of the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribe’s Endowment Trust Board of Directors. During her tenure on the Tribal Council, Treasurer Swift saw the successful completion of three affordable housing development programs for tribal families, comprised of twelve new housing units. She also led a financial wellness initiative for the tribal community, covering topics including social security, estate planning, personal budgeting, and insurance. 

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the State of Connecticut and Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor, Treasurer Swift currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and is serving on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council (IRSAC) as Chair of the Tax Exempt and Governmental Entities Subgroup. She is also a Board Member of CorePlus Federal Credit Union. Jean is a member of the business honor society Beta Gamma Sigma through the University of Connecticut, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration—graduating Magna Cum Laude. She later earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management in Chicago, IL, graduating with Honors. 

Over the course of her career, Swift has developed an eminent reputation throughout Indian Country as a leading voice on important tribal parity issues such as taxation, debt restructuring, and the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. She is known for her passion and keen understanding of the nuances involved in tribal economies and finances.


NAFOA presented Phyliss J. Anderson, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribal Chief with the 2019 Tribal Leader of the Year Award. This award honors a tribal leader who has displayed significant foresight and resolve in the financial advancement of his or her tribal nation.

Chief Anderson, fluent in the Choctaw language, has more than 30 years of experience with tribal government management and is the first woman chief in Choctaw history. She was sworn into office on October 4, 2011 and is currently serving her second term as tribal chief. As Tribal Chief, Anderson leads more than 11,000 enrolled tribal citizens and oversees the successful operation of the Tribe’s enterprises, educational and healthcare systems, law enforcement and police protection, tribal courts, and social services. She is responsible for a tribal government operations budget of more than $150 million and tribal enterprise revenues of more than $300 million. Over the years Chief Anderson has shown a strong commitment to financial responsibility, operating an accountable and transparent government, and building the quality of life on the Choctaw Indian Reservation. Under her leadership, she has effectively pulled her Tribe out of a financial recession, restored confidence among financial partners, and led a new renaissance for the Choctaw people.

Chief Anderson is active locally, regionally, and nationally. She was recognized by The Mississippi Business Journal in 2013 as one of Mississippi’s Top 50 Leading Business Women. She has served on a number of governing boards and committees for multi-million-dollar enterprises including those in the tribal manufacturing, tribal government contracting, and the gaming and hospitality industry. Regionally, she serves on the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and USET Sovereignty Protection Fund (SPF) Board of Directors. Chief Anderson was also appointed by President Obama to serve on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education (NACIE). Chief Anderson lent her influence and time to lobby Congress on key pieces of legislation that had a tremendous impact on Indian Country, including the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the General Welfare Exclusion Act (GWE).

She is a graduate of East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss. and is married to Ricky Anderson, Sr. They are the parents and grandparents of a growing family.

NAFOA is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen tribal economies by promoting excellence in financial management, advocating sound economic and fiscal policy, developing innovative education initiatives, and providing essential information, resources, and support to meet the challenges of economic growth and change. NAFOA will host its 2019 Fall Finance and Tribal Economies Conference at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, Pryor Lake, MN on October 6-8, 2019.