The Reservation Economic Summit, RES 2012, conference and trade show I recently attended experienced record attendance according to NCAIED (National Center for Indian Enterprise Development). It’s satisfying to see the Indian small business exhibitors and the tribally owned business exhibitors. There was an absence of Alaska Native Corporation exhibitors. Mystifying, when you consider the amount of money they make as Indian Preference and 8(a) preference contractors. NACA (Native American Contractors Association), their DC advocacy organization, was there. You would think the ANC’s would support NCAIED and the RES 2012 Indian/Tribal Business Trade Show. There were a few NACA members present, Laguna, Winnebago, Chugach to name three.
The RES Conference started out with the NCAIED Awards Reception. Walt Lamar of Lamar Associates, won Indian Business Person of The Year. Some may remember Walt from his FBI career. He now runs his own consulting and training business with an emphasis on tribal law enforcement, gang intervention, drug enforcement, gaming enforcement, surveillance and security and more. His business partner, Steve Juneau, is also a long-time Indian law enforcement veteran. Walt ended his acceptance speech by reminding Indian Tribes and Tribal Businesses, including casinos, they should be holding their managers accountable for buying services and goods from Indian owned businesses. (“If you’re not buying 50 percent of your goods and services from Indian owned business, SHAME ON YOU!”) There was a collective roar from the audience. Walt is Blackfeet/Wichita and Steve is Blackfeet. (I had a good meeting at their booth about Browning Indian basketball, an economic force in its own right.)
I had the pleasure of meeting Levi Horn (Northern Cheyenne), a Chicago Bears NFL player. He was a panelist on how sporting events can be an integral part of casino marketing, a good method of drawing patrons to the reservations and a profit center in its own right. My friend and colleague, Gabe Galanda, (Round Valley Rancheria) also was on the panel and gave an excellent presentation with regard to the growth in Tribal Sports Commissions, particularly in the area of boxing, martial arts and other sports. He pointed out the televised bouts from such venues as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Gabe talked about how Tribal Sports Commissions do not have to limit professional sports regulation in accordance with state law. There was discussion about how Rodeo, particularly Professional Bull Riding, can be a draw and how Powwows can be a draw. The Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, for which Isleta Pueblo is a main sponsor, draws approximately $8.1 Million into the Albuquerque area economy in just one weekend. Second only to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, a two weekend event.
The new NCAIED President/CEO Gary Davis (aka Litefoot, actor, singer, inspirational speaker, business owner) and Ernie Stevens, President of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) announced the formation of a new alliance to promote Indian and tribally owned businesses in the Indian Gaming Industry. Ernie Stevens asked the audience; “…what else can we do?” Of course, we in the Small Indian Business world have at least part of the answer. That is, to have tribes and casino boards, by resolution or ordinance, require its casino managers, and other business managers to adhere to Tribal Preference AND Indian Preference laws and policies, especially their own. A few years ago the National Tribal Development Association (NTDA) spearheaded an effort to have NIGA set goals to bring more Indian Businesses into the Casino Supply Chain. (Henry Cagey, NTDA Chairman and Mike Rawley, NTDA CEO were in attendance at RES 2012). In response to this effort, NIGA member tribes passed a resolution setting a goal for its member tribes to purchase at least 10% of their goods and services from Indian owned businesses.
NIGA/NCAIED alliance should also assist tribes with making sure the intent of the NIGA Resolution is implemented at the local level and becomes a part of management’s job performance. A model ordinance or resolution should be sent out to all tribes.
David A. Hinson, the National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (U.S. Department of Labor), in his speech, said that Indian Tribes and their businesses constitute approximately $64 Billion ($64,000,000,000.00) in economic impact to their local economies.
NIGA and NCAIED can also conduct a study of utilization of Indian and tribally owned businesses, in not only the Indian Gaming Industry, but by tribal businesses and governments in general. Most Indian business owners know that we run into tribal department executives and tribal business executives who don’t even know their own tribes’ law and policy regarding Indian Preference, and when they are apprised of it, still resist its observance. Indian commerce has been built on preferences. Any member of NIGA knows that the Indian Gaming Industry was built on federal law which allows for tribal “exclusivity” in Tribal-State Gaming Compacts. Any member of NACA, especially the Alaska Native Corporations, know that their businesses were built on federal contract preferences for minorities (SBA 8(a) status) and Indian Preference (as well as certain tax immunities).
To often when Indian business owners assert their rights under Indian and Tribal Preference in both tribal law and federal law, they are looked upon with both suspicion (fronting for non-Indian businesses) and contempt (called whiners or complainers). It is ironic, that it is the non-Indian Businesses in the surrounding communities and the non-Indian owned businesses that serve the Indian Gaming Industry and benefit most from this suspicion and contempt. The non-Indian business owners are laughing all the way to the bank to deposit their share of the $64 billion. Indian Country must make it a priority to circulate this money back into the tribal communities, anything less is a disservice.
Harold Monteau is a Chippewa-Cree Attorney and Indian Business Consultant who resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the former Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission and an advocate for Indian Small Business owners. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.