PHOENIX - The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) recently selected Bernadine Burnette, vice president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, as Indian Gaming Advocate of the Year.
Burnette has been in a leadership role in Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation's government for nearly 18 years, serving as secretary, vice president and president, the longest any woman has held a leadership role within the tribe.
She was intimately involved in federal and state government negotiations and subsequent congressional approval of the tribe's federal water rights. She also worked to restructure the management contract of the bingo hall in 1992. Burnette also was involved in the 1999 total revision of the tribal constitution for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.
Prior to holding public office, Burnette worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for 18 years and also served as acting general manager for Fort McDowell Yavapai Materials. She then decided to take her business experience and apply it to helping her own people.
Burnette's grandmother raised her in a house with a dirt floor and no running water or electricity, and Burnette never dreamed of being a politician.
"I only wanted to be a housewife and a mother," said Burnette. "Although when I was in boarding school, I was always the leader of our group. I was very athletic, and always captain of our team or leader of the dormitory - that's probably where my leadership started."
Known as a forthright and assertive leader, Burnette has received many honors. Among them, former Gov. Jane Hull selected her as "Woman of the Year" and Casino Enterprise Management Magazine presented her with the Proven Leader - Great Women of Gaming award in 2007. In 2009, Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations recognized Burnette for her dedication and contributions in Indian country, Fort McDowell, and the women in her community.
In addition to her many years of service to her tribe, Burnette is active in the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA) and is currently secretary of NIGA.
She also offers advice to anyone hoping to hold a leadership position.
"Pray about it. Let your heart and mind guide you and the outcome, whatever the decision is, will be a good one," Burnette said. "And remember to trust your instincts, they are usually right."
More information is available by contacting Pam Hait or Martha Hunter in the strategies department of the AIGA at (602) 952-0040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.