Mel Tonasket.

SAN DIEGO, CA - Former Colville Business Council member Mel Tonasket will be honored with the 9th Annual Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award from the National Indian Gaming Association at the San Diego Convention Center, today.

A press release from NIGA states, "The award is given to individuals who have worked tirelessly to protect tribal sovereignty and Indian gaming."

In the press release, NIGA chair Ernie Stevens Jr. applauded Tonasket for his leadership.

"Mel has spent his whole career defending tribal sovereignty, and he has continued to work for all of us in what he has done nationally, regionally and for the Colville Tribes. We are honored to be presenting one of the most powerful warriors of all time with the distinguished award."

Tonasket was first elected to serve on the Colville council in 1970, and he retired in 2017.

Tonasket also served as president of the National Congress of American Indians from 1973 to 1976.

The NIGA press release states, "Mr. Tonasket led the Colville Tribes' fight against termination and as President of NCAI mobilized national support for major tribal legislation, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act. He was a member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission for two years and has represented United States tribal governments at the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Indigenous Conference in Brazil."

Colville tribal member Tim Wapato passed away in 2009. 

Wapato retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1979 and went on to be the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. In 1989, he was appointed as the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans. Following his federal service, he served as the first Executive Director fo the NIGA.

The Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award was established by NIGA and Wapato's family and is presented to "a member of our tribal community who shares the passion and drive that Tim Wapato had for tribal sovereignty and all people throughout Indian Country," according to the press release.

"Mel Tonasket exemplifies the meaning of real leadership," said Wapato's wife, Gaye Kingman. "As an advocate for Indian country, he always stands strong protecting tribal sovereignty with the best interest of his community first and foremost."

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