For the first time in its 26-year history, AMERIND Risk Management Corporation has a Native leader at the helm. The multi-tribal corporation recently named Acoma Pueblo citizen Derek Valdo as its new chief executive officer.
Valdo, 37, has served AMERIND for over a decade, most recently as director of safety services. His deep experience as a certified risk manager and his key role in AMERIND’s annual strategic planning made him a uniquely qualified candidate for the position, according to Phil Bush, AMERIND chairman.
“We have all the confidence that with his background, experience and knowledge of tribal issues, Mr. Valdo will carry this corporation forward,” said Bush in a statement.
AMERIND is a not-for-profit risk pool management corporation created by federally recognized tribes in 1986 to protect life and property from the devastation of fire, natural disasters and other unforeseen events. Over 400 participating tribes pool their resources to provide insurance alternatives to tribal operations like schools, governmental offices and business operations. Indian nations, through their tribal housing authorities, comprise the majority of AMERIND’s equity membership.
As CEO, Valdo plans to reorganize corporate operational structure and improve recruitment and development. He said he wants to focus on gaining more interest in AMERIND’s core offerings: property protection, liability and worker injury coverage for tribal communities. Valdo said the market space for tribal operations and enterprise is much larger and AMERIND has only scratched the surface. Thus, part of the new leader’s vision is expanding operations further into the commercial and governmental operations of federally and state recognized Indian tribes.
The philosophy and practice of “buying Native” is a major motivator for Valdo, who earned a degree in Economics from the University of New Mexico. He points out that large tribal government operations often attract big insurance companies, but when it comes to individuals in Indian Country, “nobody was knocking on our doors” prior to AMERIND’s formation 26 years ago.
“We need more tribes to buy in and consider AMERIND a viable alternative to commercial insurance companies,” said Valdo. “We want those nations that believe in tribal sovereignty and want to keep our resources in our communities.”
In his prior role, Valdo directed Safety Services and was responsible for loss control and performance improvement programs. He reduced preventable claims and accidents by 15 percent annually and introduced culturally sensitive learning material for tribal clients.
Valdo developed FOCUS, an acronym for “face-to-face opportunities creating unique safety services.” By concentrating extra effort into preventable claims like kitchen fires and accidents caused by candles and fireworks, AMERIND reduced claims by half—from approximately 40 per year at a cost of over $4 million to just 15, directly impacting costs by $2 million.
“By looking at data and focusing on the manageable issues, we were able to gain more success,” said Valdo. “We reduced the risk for 30-45 families as well as emergency response personnel impacted by the perils of accidental fire.”
Another effort took core material from the National Fire Prevention Association’s “Learn Not to Burn” education program and tailored it for AMERIND’s clientele in Indian Country. Its “Wisdom of Fire” campaign encourages respect for fire, and provides prevention and response education for families. Valdo said this particular effort, as well as their Elder Safety program, resonates in tribal communities.
“We want to help improve safety for Indian people. By knowing our client base, we’re able to create grassroots efforts that empower them to make better choices … and with the right education, they often do. It’s a longer-lasting result.”
His team even converted some safety campaigns into Native languages, including Lakota, Dakota, Keres, Zuni and Athabascan. It’s a win-win, Valdo said. “If a community has a language retention or revitalization program, we incorporate those aspects to teach young people and also to reinforce the wisdom of the elders,” he said. “We want to change the way education materials are used in this industry.”
It’s clear that AMERIND’s new leadership is up for the challenges of creating needed programs to serve Native communities. “We were built for Indian country,” Valdo said. “It’s where we live.”