Native American Heritage Month: A look at Seneca Nation's impact on Western New York's economy

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — The sovereign nation of Seneca is the largest of six nations and has a democratic government that pre-dates the United States Constitution.

The nation has more than 8,000 citizens enrolled.

The Seneca Nation supports its own people and benefits surrounding communities with a variety of cultural, educational and economic efforts.

Seneca Gaming Corporation president and CEO, Kevin Nephew said, "One of the pieces we really look at, is how do we integrate that and become really a piece of education not only for our team members but also for the general public."

As Native American Heritage Month comes to a close, 7 News looked at ways the nation has taken advantage of opportunities to teach and inform and make people aware of its culture.

If you ask "Wolf Clan" member, Kevin Nephew, about how he celebrates Native American Heritage Month, the answer is quite simple:

"I forget about the month. We celebrate daily," Nephew said.

Nephew has taken the reigns for the last two years. He is the first member of the Seneca Nation to take on this role.

"A couple of the pieces that come into culture are our language, our traditions. We always look to the past, the present and our future. I think sometimes people forget that," Nephew explained.

Nationwide, half of the indigenous people on or near reservations belong to tribes that have opened Las Vegas-style casinos, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Many of these are in rural areas and draw from clienteles who drive an hour or so to get to the casino.

"One of the great things we do is we look to always cultivate our leaders. It's been a very proud moment that in the last two months, we have actually appointed two Seneca members as general managers. Those are the folks that lead our properties," Nephew said.

The true beauty, though, of Seneca culture, language and traditions is captured in a museum, in the Allegany Territory.

From 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, guests can stop by the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum to learn about the extensive collections archaeological artifacts, historical documents and much more.

"We will always be here and we will always be a part of Western New York. We were here before it was called New York and we will be here well after," Nephew added.

The National Congress of American Indians states, there are 574 federally recognized Native American nations in the U.S., variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages.