NAFOA Announces Recipients of The 17 Th Annual Leadership Awards


April 30, 2024

Bettina Gonzalez
Director of Communications

HOLLYWOOD, FL – The NAFOA Leadership Awards recognize the achievements of tribal leaders, tribal executives, advocates, and financial transactions driving economic progress within Indian Country. The 17th Annual Leadership Awards were presented at the 42nd Annual Conference at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL. 

Government Economic Empowerment
NAFOA awards Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota the Government Economic Empowerment Award for his exceptional dedication to tribal relations. Throughout his two terms, Governor Walz prioritized enhancing government-to-government relationships with Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations, enacting Executive Order 19-24 to strengthen consultation requirements. He established the Office of Tribal State Relations within his office, highlighting the significance of tribal partnerships. Governor Walz’s historic visits to all 11 tribes in the state underscore his commitment to meaningful engagement and consultation. His initiatives, including the establishment of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives’ office, reflect a profound respect for tribal sovereignty and welfare.

Education Program of the Year

NAFOA’s Education Program of the Year Award honors a creative and effective education program that furthers knowledge and understanding of business and economic development. This year’s recipient is the Turtle Mountain Community Schools (Belcourt School District #7) and their innovative Learning Loss Program. Situated within the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (TMBCI) reservation in North Dakota, the school addressed challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s shift to distance learning, especially concerning limited internet access. Leveraging an Elementary and Secondary School Relief grant, the school implemented a multifaceted approach to combat learning loss while stimulating the local economy. By engaging parents and community members in proposing and teaching over 45 classes, the program addressed educational setbacks and generated job opportunities for Tribal members, fostering a robust education program that serves as a model for other districts nationwide.

Government Impact Deal of the Year

NAFOA awards the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin (LCO) the Government Impact Deal of the Year for their groundbreaking financing of a new healthcare and outpatient clinic. This innovative deal, facilitated by two Native American-owned banks, four Community Development Financial Institutions, New Market Tax Credits, American Rescue Plan Act funds, and the Indian Health Service’s 105(l) program, marks a paradigm of collaborative success. The new 64,421-square-foot facility in Hayward, WI, aims to address the pressing health needs of the Tribal community, offering a comprehensive range of services. LCO Tribal leadership underscores the significance of this endeavor in enhancing healthcare access, bolstering the local and Tribal economies, and promoting cultural alignment. This achievement highlights the transformative impact of collaboration among Native American financial institutions, setting a new standard in financial partnership and community development.

Business Impact Deal of the Year

The Business Impact Deal of the Year Award acknowledges initiatives driving significant economic growth for tribes and Indian Country. This year’s recipient is the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, recognized for their shared acquisition of the Major League Soccer franchise, San Diego FC, alongside entrepreneur Mohamed Mansour. This pioneering partnership, enhanced by the Sycuan Tribe’s rich cultural heritage and longstanding community ties to the San Diego area, includes establishing the Right to Dream Academy for student-athletes. This historic agreement marks a pivotal moment for the Sycuan Tribe, marking them as the first Native American tribe to hold an ownership stake in a men’s professional sports team. Through extensive collaboration, the tribe has paved the way for future opportunities, opening doors for tribes to engage in sports franchise ownership and various private and corporate ventures. 

San Diego FC is set to debut in 2025 at the 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium. 

Honorary Leadership Award

NAFOA presents Dawson Her Many Horses, Managing Director and Head of Native American Banking at Wells Fargo, with an Honorary Leadership Award for his longstanding commitment to advancing tribal economic development. An enrolled citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Her Many Horses has dedicated his career to promoting tribal interests within the finance sector and advising policymakers on tribal financial issues. In 2018, he joined Wells Fargo, where his advocacy and dedication led to his promotion to Managing Director, marking him as one of the first enrolled tribal members to hold such a position at a major U.S. bank. He has supported NAFOA for over a decade, serving on the Board of Directors and founding the Corporate Advisory Committee. Her Many Horses centers his advocacy on ensuring greater visibility and equitable access to resources for Native American tribes. As he highlighted in his acceptance speech, “Fifty to 60 years ago, we were reaffirming our treaty rights and sovereignty through the courts, with tribal leaders urging our youth toward careers in law. Today, we similarly assert our sovereignty through business endeavors, necessitating a comparable call to action for finance careers.”

Executive of the Year

NAFOA annually honors tribal leaders who demonstrate exemplary leadership and financial planning that benefits Indian Country. Misty Secena, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, is this year’s recipient of the 2024 Executive of the Year Award for her role as the Tribe’s Chief Financial Officer. With nearly two decades of public service, Secena has secured financial independence for the Tribe and improved access to essential services. She led efforts to select the primary financial provider for Chehalis, raised funds for an Elders Center Facility, and established a substance abuse treatment clinic. To provide a path for Tribal members to improve their overall financial health, Secena established the inaugural Financial Freedom Fair to connect Tribal members with financial community representatives. With a focus on tribal public service, her goal is to foster a thriving, sustainable, and financially sovereign Chehalis Tribe.

Tribal Leader of the Year

NAFOA’s Tribal Leader of the Year Award celebrates leaders with exceptional foresight and resolve in advancing their tribal nations. This year, Nickolaus D. Lewis (Juts-kadim’) of the Lummi Nation Tribe in Washington State is honored with this distinction. As a Lummi tribal council member and Chairman of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, Lewis has demonstrated outstanding leadership in governance and healthcare. A U.S. Navy veteran and devoted father, Lewis upholds his family’s tradition of service with profound dedication. His initiatives tackling homelessness and pioneering probation reforms underscore his commitment to enhancing the well-being of his community. NAFOA recognizes Nickolaus D. Lewis for his exemplary leadership and contributions to tribal healthcare, judicial matters, and community welfare.



NAFOA was founded over 40 years ago as the Native American Finance Officers Association to highlight the role of tribal finance in fostering economic opportunities. Over the last four decades, NAFOA has grown along with tribes to be advocates of sound economic and fiscal policy and developers of innovative training programs in financial management to build the skills of the next generation. Semiannually, NAFOA convenes tribal leadership, experienced professionals, and economic partners to meet the challenges of economic growth and change. To learn more about NAFOA, visit the website


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