BATTLE CREEK, MICH. (WOTV)-The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) and FireKeepers Casino Hotel (FKCH) was honored by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) with its prestigious Chairman’s Leadership Award on Oct. 21.
Tribal leaders welcomed NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens and staff for a visit that included a tour of the award-winning casino and hotel, as well as visits to the tribe’s Pine Creek Indian Reservation in Fulton, and The Fire Hub restaurant and Kendall Street Pantry in Battle Creek.
During his visit, Chairman Stevens noted the tribe’s work feeding local residents in need as he toured The Fire Hub restaurant, a venture that gives 80% of its profits to local charities, and the adjacent Kendall Street Food Pantry, which shares a building with the restaurant and partners with the South Michigan Food Bank. Both are supervised by FKCH Vice President of Food and Beverage Mike McFarlen.
“I will always remember what you’ve done with this old fire station,” Stevens said. “On the right, we go to one of the neatest restaurants I’ve ever been in, and on the left we go to a place where people can get the help they need. These are the things that make the world turn for us, and mean a great deal to me personally,” adding that he and his family often faced hunger when he was growing up.
At a small dinner for the NIGA visitors, NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson Jamie Stuck shared his pride at the rare acknowledgement of an entire tribe with the Chairman’s Leadership Award.
“To be recognized as a tribe speaks volumes about us for being a nation that does things for good reasons, focusing on community outreach, not just what we can do economically,” Stuck said. “I appreciate that it focuses on the wellness and success of the tribe as a whole, instead of an individual, and it shows how keeping true to our community’s mission and vision has put us in a good position in these unprecedented times.”
Stevens’ also gave the award to showcase the FireKeepers Casino Hotel being recently named by Forbes as being among the top ten best employers in Michigan. He noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, casinos comprised the 11th-largest employer in the U.S.
“We are proud of this recognition of our work as an employer of choice,” FKCH CEO Kathy George said. “To have both NIGA and Forbes identify us as a premier employer is a clear indication of how we treat our team members and a validation of their dedication to providing every patron with a rewarding experience at FireKeepers.”
The NIGA award was also given to highlight the tribe’s work with the Native American Heritage Fund, which supports positive Native relationships and imagery – including mascot updates – with local communities throughout Michigan.
“This is foundational work you are doing to help educate America,” Stevens said. “I appreciate what you have done to educate the world around you to better understand and appreciate our culture and traditions.”