Tracie Stevens, ’06, never meant to be a trailblazer. But that sure didn’t stop her from being one.
She was the first member of her immediate family to graduate from high school and the first to graduate from college. Today, she is the first woman to chair the National Indian Gaming Commission, the agency that regulates the $27 billion Indian gaming industry.
President Obama selected Stevens, an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes, because of her experience working on tribal issues at the local, regional and national levels. But holding a national position was never her goal.
“I always wanted to work for my people,” she said recently while in Seattle. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve on the federal level. Shaping and affecting policy on Indian people is my passion.”
That’s been the case since 1995, when the Los Angeles native first went to work for the Tulalip Tribes 35 miles north of Seattle. She worked in a variety of roles in casino operations and tribal government before she was appointed senior adviser to the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior in 2009.
Besides running the three-person commission that oversees the multibillion-dollar industry serving tribes nationwide, Stevens wants to use her position to help tribal communities in another way: to be a role model for Native Americans who face the same struggles she did.
“I didn’t take a traditional path in education,” recalls Stevens, who attended community college and the University of Washington part time, often at night and while working, to earn her B.A. in social sciences in 2006 through the evening degree program, two decades after graduating from high school.
“I want to show [Native Americans] that we don’t have to fall prey to socioeconomic problems, that we can rise above them to get our education.”
Stevens’ sister married and had a child at 17. An older brother left school to go to work. And her oldest brother died in a car accident at age 17, when she was 13. Stevens was determined nothing would keep her from a college education.
“The number of Native Americans who graduate from high school and go to college is about one in 200,” Stevens explains. “I want to be an example to my daughter [Cierra, 11], my nieces and my nephews.”
While Stevens is enjoying her work on the federal level, she looks forward to blazing a different kind of trail—one that will take her back home to Washington so she can once again work for the Tulalip Tribes.
“I have a built-in homing device,” she says. “I will be back.”