Oneida Nation Representative and Oneida Nation Enterprises Chief Executive Officer
Ray Halbritter is the Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation and the Chief Executive Officer of its enterprises, leading the Oneida people to an economic and cultural renaissance that has been hailed as a national model of success.
Halbritter’s experience embodies the Oneida people’s larger resurgence over the last 30 years. The grandson of an Oneida leader and the son of a nurse, he lived in an impoverished community on the Oneida Indian Nation’s sacred homeland, and saw his family members die in an inferno neglected by local officials. He toiled as an ironworker to make ends meet, eventually getting into Syracuse University and then Harvard Law School.
Having deep roots in his Nation, Halbritter returned to Central New York to use his education to give back to his community, beginning the arduous process of building the first major enterprises on the Oneida homelands. With Halbritter at the helm, the Oneida Nation became the first American Indian government in 1979 to offer gaming operations on sovereign land — one of many prescient moves that positioned the Oneida people to build what would become a world-class entertainment and gaming facility in the heart of the Northeast.
In the early years of the resurgence, Halbritter’s vision of major enterprises were at first derided by the local media as unrealistic – but through diligence, hard work and collaboration, he helped transform an empty cornfield into sustainable enterprises that have become an engine of jobs, shared prosperity and cultural resurgence for the Oneida people. In the process, he has forged historic pacts with the federal government to recognize the Oneidas for the first time in a century, and put more land under Oneida control than at anytime since 1824. He has also forged historic agreements with governors of New York and county leaders to end age-old disputes and make sure the Oneida enterprises are working to guarantee prosperity both for today’s community, and for future generations to come.
Through it all, he has instilled in the Oneida’s business enterprises a sense of cultural investment, making sure that revenues are invested in health care, schools and services for Oneida members, as well as in institutions that will help protect the Oneida’s heritage. Those include endowing a Harvard professorship in American law, investing in Indian Country Today Media, supporting the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and becoming a founding donor to the Museum of the American Revolution. It also includes investing in the work of protecting Native Americans’ political rights, through support for the National Congress of American Indians and launching the “Change the Mascot” campaign that has fought anti-Native American bigotry in professional sports.
Business-wise, the Oneida Nation’s success under Halbritter’s leadership has been hailed as model for sustainable, diversified and self-sufficient economic development. In all, the Nation’s businesses include Turning Stone Resort Casino, Yellow Brick Road Casino, the SāvOn chain of convenience stores, Indian Country Today Media Network and Four Directions Productions.
Those businesses have earned national and international recognition and honors, including Four Diamond ratings from AAA for the resort’s luxury hotels and one of its restaurants; being named the Academy of Country Music’s Casino of the Year; and inclusion of all three of Turning Stone’s championship-caliber golf courses in Golfweek magazine’s list of Top 100 courses in the country, among multiple other golf awards. The Nation’s Atunyote Golf Course hosted the annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge charity event, which Tiger Woods won in 2009.
As a business and cultural leader, Halbritter has continued to give back to his community with the same enthusiasm that he brought to his people when he first began working to build Turning Stone. He has served as chairman of the Turning Stone Resort Championship and the Upstate New York Empowerment Fund, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for dozens of Central New York charities and civic groups over the history of the golf tournament. He serves on the boards of directors of the Environmental Media Association, Harvard Native American Law Board, Montpelier Spring Water Company, Mohawk Valley Edge, the Hofmann Sausage Company and the Museum of the American Revolution. He is a member of the Recording Academy; the National Advisory Council for the American Indian Program at Cornell University; the National Congress of American Indians; and United South and Eastern Tribes.