Virginia Brings Yellow chuckles when asked what she knows about risk management. Turns out, she knows more than most. As the longtime property manager for the Quinault Indian Nation, one of her main concerns is protecting tribal assets from potential harm. That’s a critical task, especially for her people. She describes the location of her reservation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula this way: “Some people say that we’re at the ‘end of the road’ up here in the Northwest corner of the country,” she says. “But my grandfather used to say, ‘No, it’s the beginning of the road!’ ”
Only five blocks from the ocean, the Quinault reservation lies within the Pacific Northwest’s so-called tsunami hazard zone. According to an impact study, nearly half of Quinault’s residents, most of them elders and young children, reside in the inundation zone. Another village, Queets, is two hours away.
Brings Yellow says it was difficult to get a competitive quote from insurers on the tribe’s beach resort and casino due to the coastal community’s unique situation. That is, until 2007 when Amerind Risk Management Corporation bid to expand beyond its core coverage of the nation’s housing protection program. “They blew away our previous costs,” she recalls. Brings Yellow was already familiar with Amerind, having served as an alternate on its board for a brief time while she was a member of the Quinault housing authority.
The bid was successful. Today, QIN utilizes a range of Amerind coverage programs and services. “Amerind understands our cultural needs,” says Brings Yellow. “The coverage we have now protects our people’s safety and traditional artifacts like carvings and baskets that we put our love and hearts into. They understand how valuable these things are to us.”
That’s exactly what Dennis McCann, chief operating officer of Amerind, likes to hear. McCann is a believer in the multitribal corporation’s philosophy of providing affordable programs and services that protect Native people and
operations using responsible business practices that are culturally sensitive and flexible. “We give tribes and Indian enterprises a sustainable, Indian-owned and -operated alternative to a commercial insurance market that sends money to Wall Street,” said McCann. “Amerind keeps tribal dollars in tribal communities.”
The not-for-profit risk pool management corporation has more than 400 participating tribes combining resources to provide insurance alternatives to tribal operations and private Native-owned enterprise. Because Amerind was created to serve a range of tribal needs, it moved beyond housing to help tribes mitigate financial risk of loss in other areas and provide competition in a small marketplace.
McCann points to Amerind’s workers compensation coverage as a prime example of the benefits yielded by looking within Indian country for solutions. About 100 tribes participate in the Amerind risk pool for their worker’s compensation coverage. McCann says everyone benefits from the decision to exercise self-determination. “It’s a sovereign-to-sovereign transaction,” he points out. “Unlike traditional worker’s compensation that subjects the tribe to state jurisdiction and taxes that are typically calculated into premiums, Amerind operates within the authority of the participating tribe. Not only do tribes have the ability to eliminate fraud and abuse that’s prevalent in the state system, the cost can be much lower.”
Evaluation is a major part of Amerind’s dedication to tribal needs. Striving to be flexible and responsive, McCann says the corporation monitors successes and trends with each client as well as Indian country as a whole. Brings Yellow says she looks forward to meeting with her Amerind risk managers each year to evaluate the Quinault Nation’s coverage. “We sit down face-to-face and identify problem areas and successes,” she says. “Together we come up with strategies for the next year to improve our worker’s comp coverage.”
To augment her vast on-the-job experience, Brings Yellow is training to become a certified risk manager. Each week she makes the six-hour round trip to attend a course in Bellevue, Washington where she’s the only Native person among Microsoft employees and other Seattle professionals in her class. “Insurance is a major concern,” says Brings Yellow, who adds that she has seen the direct benefit of Amerind’s services. “We’ve saved so much money going through a bid process and choosing Amerind that I wish we’d done it sooner. Cost-savings are put into other service areas for our people. It has been great.”
“Amerind is more than just a catchy name targeted at tribes,” says Chief Executive Officer Derek Valdo. “We’re managed and controlled by Indian people whose heart, mind and soul is Indian country.”
“Don’t believe the naysayers,” McCann says. “We provide a better solution for most tribes and tribal businesses.”