Walter Lamar just keeps reinventing himself. And now, his latest iteration has earned him the highest of high honors: the designation as American Indian Business Owner of the Year.
The president and CEO of Lamar Associates is being lauded by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) for “fostering creation of sound American Indian businesses through the support of community programming and projects,” said an NCAIED press release. The accolade will be presented on February 29 during the eight a.m. morning general session at RES 2012, the nation’s largest American Indian economic and business development conference.
Simply put, Lamar walks his talk. Even the company mantra of “Indian Country, It’s Who We Are” tells a story of the man and what matters to him.
“Both of my parents dedicated their lives and careers to improve things in Indian country,” Lamar recalls, “so it was a natural transition for me to want to do the same thing. My mother worked as a Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] social worker and my dad was in tribal law enforcement, so we transferred from reservation to reservation when I was a kid. I had a great deal of exposure to a lot of different aspects of Indian country. I was raised on the Blackfeet, Wind River, Jicarilla Apache and Navajo reservations, so I feel like I’m from a lot of different tribes.
“Because of them, I am who I am today. I learned how to be strong from my dad while my mom, my grandmother and great-grandmother had kind and generous hearts, and I inherited that from them. Mom is still alive and well and continuing to spread her generosity because we care about Indian country—it’s who we are.”
Initially teaching school on the Blackfeet reservation, Lamar responded to the lure of law enforcement as his chosen professional path. It was a natural choice: His father was a chief of police who introduced him to the interior of a patrol car, and his Blackfeet grandfather carried a sheriff’s badge. “Being raised in a law enforcement environment, the career choice was a natural for me.”
Interested in the federal side of law and order, he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a special agent. It wasn’t long before he began to prove himself. Among his high-profile deployments were investigating mass murders in Seattle and serving as a SWAT team member during the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. Outside of his official work, he appeared on such TV programs as America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries.
On his company website, Lamar notes that he was twice awarded the FBI Shield of Bravery, one of only two agents to achieve that distinction. His first shield was given in recognition of life-saving deeds he performed in the rescue effort and investigation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He received his second citation the same year for an “extraordinary act of heroism” in the course of a running battle with an armed prison escapee. “After being fired at, I shot a fugitive felon,” Lamar says.
After 18 years with the FBI, Lamar became deputy director of law enforcement for the BIA. In many respects, he says, it was a dream job. “[It was] an extension of my Indian country experience that now extended across the nation. It was a pivotal time because the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act of 1990 created direct line authority by enforcement professionals.”
Then, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Lamar became a senior advisor to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Management, the third-largest federal law enforcement contingent in the country. “I was the only former FBI agent there, so when the Secretary of the Interior authorized the improving of security postures for the nation’s icons, dams and monuments, I spent two years in Washington, D.C., creating security protocols.”
Finally, as he approached retirement in 2005, Lamar spent his last working months as acting director of BIA law enforcement, overseeing detention issues and jail deficiencies in Indian country. “I was fortunate to have interesting and blessed careers,” he reflects.
But Lamar was just beginning. At that point he was still only 51 years old. No sooner had he stopped working for the government than he took $25,000 in savings to found Lamar Associates, a 100 percent Indian–owned firm based on providing resources needed to confront challenges faced by Indian people. He was also armed with the belief that education and community involvement are keys to healthier Indian country communities.
“I went from employment designed to earn a living to a mission of the heart where I could take the experience gained in my 25-year career,” he says, “and bring that wisdom to bear in addressing law enforcement and health and safety issues plaguing many tribal communities.”
One of his first large jobs was for his former employer, the Department of the Interior, who contracted him to find Natives to whom the government owed money. Before he was done, he had located more than 1,600 individuals who were owed a collective $16 million.
Now entering its eighth year, Lamar’s company of six full-time employees and seven contractors (all hired through Native preference) offers consulting, training and technical assistance relative to Native issues and problems. The official company slogan? “Preparing for tomorrow. Protecting today.”
Lamar sums up his successes so far: “We’ve trained more than 7,000 professionals in Indian country in the last five years with a concentration on hot-button topics like gang prevention, methamphetamine and prescription drug issues, violence prevention, and things like assessments of law enforcement program efficiency and investigations of casinos where improprieties were alleged.”
These days, Lamar continues to work to build a successful outfit that generates positive revenue flow. The challenge is imparting sincerity while acknowledging that although profit is not a dirty word, it is not a be-all and end-all, either: “It’s about doing the right thing, and if you do things correctly you create a successful business model.”
In any event, Lamar likes to keep things close to home, in Indian country. “There are a lot of non-Native firms working on grants and contracts and we appreciate their effort, but these folks require a significant and steep learning curve to properly provide services to tribes,” he says. “There is a benefit to using 100 percent Indian–owned companies that employ Native Americans. We don’t have to research the issues because we already have firsthand knowledge—the issues faced by tribal communities are the same issues facing our own families.”
In that regard, Lamar continues to demonstrate a pay-it-forward mentality. In 2009, in memory of his great grandfather, he founded the Mountain Chief Institute, a center for tribal excellence and a not-for-profit think tank dedicated to creating solutions for Indian country law enforcement, security, and emergency management personnel. In other words, it’s but the latest example of how he gives his time and talent to better life in Indian country.
Certainly his mother would agree. When her son receives his Business Owner of the Year accolade for conveying the life lessons he learned from her, she will be on hand to see it.