Yakama Nation leader Letisha Peterson honored with Distinguished Alumnus Award
Yakima Valley College has selected Letisha Peterson, general manager of Yakama Nation Legends Casino Hotel in Toppenish, as the 2023 recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
The award provides recognition to an alumnus who attended YVC for a minimum of three quarters, earned at least 45 credits, and has distinguished themselves in a positive manner. Established in 1982 and first conferred to Catherine May Bedell, the award has been presented to a variety of notable graduates of YVC. The selection is made by the President’s Office from nominations submitted by faculty, staff, students and community members.
Peterson is a native of the Yakima Valley and enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. After graduating from Yakama Tribal High School in 1997, she completed her associate degree at Yakima Valley College and then earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration through Central Washington University.
For Peterson, location was everything in her decision to attend college in Central Washington.
“I had a young family that included my son, niece and brother-in-law, so one of the critical factors for me was finding a place locally where I could earn my degree and continue caring for my family,” said Peterson. “Starting out at YVC I worked my way up to college-level classes, worked part-time and was incredibly fortunate to utilize all the available resources from YVC.”
She began her career with Legends Casino Hotel in 2008 as part of the Keys to Success program, an ongoing training initiative designed to move enrolled members into casino management. After successful completion of the program, she assumed the role of machines director, in which she maintained regulatory compliance, grew revenue and worked creatively with gaming partners to refresh options for players. With a strong history of leadership established, she was named general manager in February 2017.
Peterson credits some of her experiences at YVC with helping her be prepared for this role.
“I learned leadership and work ethic during my time at YVC. I was president of Tiin-Ma Indian Club, and our club was honored to receive the Club of the Year award in 2000 because we did a lot of outreach both in the community and throughout YVC. Since I had a full family at home, I was enrolled in work study, and I learned so much. I was assigned to the GED and ESL programs, where I was honored to work with disabled students, hardworking community members, and students with language barriers to help them learn English as a second language,” she said.
She also valued the diverse environment at the college and learned to work with people from a variety of backgrounds — many who became lifelong friends.
“Being part of such a diverse group of people opens your mind and impacts how you process information in nothing but positive ways,” she said.
Peterson credits the family-based atmosphere, fast pace, property growth and the challenges inherent to all of those as the factors for her continued enthusiasm for the entertainment industry and Legends Casino Hotel. During her free time, Peterson loves spending time with her husband Mike and her four children who range in age from seven to 27 years old. She also enjoys finding time for activities such as crafting, beading and scrapbooking.
“While I was still in school, my mom told me that I would need to balance who I am, how I was raised (being a tribal person), and my work priorities. Culture is a significant part of our lifestyle, and I am raising my children to understand our ways of life, spending time with my mother who’s now a tribal elder, and caring for my family from my youngest daughter who is seven to my mother-in-law at age 85,” said Peterson.
To other students wanting to pursue higher education, Peterson encourages them to take college seriously.
“Treat your college experience like a job,” says Peterson. “Committing a few years to setting yourself up for the rest of your life is the best thing you can do! While I attended school, I started at 7 a.m., and I wouldn’t leave until 4 p.m. in the afternoon. That gave me time for classes, but it also gave me invaluable study time in the writing lab, library and other facilities. I created that study schedule for myself. I was fully committed, I worked and I used all of the resources available. Approaching my college experience like a job helped me to graduate with honors from YVC then take that knowledge and graduate with honors from CWU.”
The Distinguished Alumnus Award will be presented during YVC’s Commencement ceremony on June 16.
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