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5 Most Significant Business Developments in Indian Country in 2016

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This year was not short on big transitions, major purchases, new partnerships and large contracts. The below list of five business developments in Indian country in 2016 skims the surface of some of the most notable shakeups and victories.

We look forward to what 2017 has in store.

  1. Gary Davis stepped down from his National Center post to launch Davis Strategies, among many other things.

News broke in late September that Gary Davis (Cherokee) was stepping down from his nearly five-year tenure as president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Soon after, we learned that Davis was assuming the executive director position for the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA), effective October 1.

But that’s far from all that Davis had in the works. Davis and his wife Carmen Davis (an enrolled member of the Makah Tribe and also Chippewa-Cree and Yakama) joined forces to launch yet another collaborative project, Davis Strategy Group, a business consulting and advisory firm in fall 2016. “There’s one thing we know: how to help move forward business,” Davis recently told Indian Country Media Network.

Beyond that, Gary Davis launched a podcast, The Litefoot Show, and web series, Litefoot’s Relentless Pursuit (available on vlog.litefoot.com and Youtube.com/Litefoot), and the Cherokee entrepreneur and rap artist began recording his 12th album after a personal seven-year hiatus from the music industry. Read more about the entrepreneur’s evolution and next steps in Hustle & Flow: Gary ‘Litefoot’ Davis Launches a Business, Podcast, Web Series & More.

“…You got to go out there, you got to be diligent, and you got to push forward to find [your] blessing. Because when you find that blessing, so much opens up for you in your life. You can’t help but help other people, be medicine to other people, be everything that you are looking for — you can become that to other people,” he told his first live audience for 'The Litefoot Show' podcast.

“…You got to go out there, you got to be diligent, and you got to push forward to find [your] blessing. Because when you find that blessing, so much opens up for you in your life. You can’t help but help other people, be medicine to other people, be everything that you are looking for — you can become that to other people,” he told his first live audience for 'The Litefoot Show' podcast.

  1. For the Seminole Tribe of Florida, 2016 involved a major victory, purchase and sale.

This year, the Seminole Tribe purchased one of the largest international casino brands in the world. The tribe bought the remaining rights of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino brand in the fall, assuming global ownership. The acquisition gives the tribe exclusive entitlement to develop, own, license, franchise and manage Hard Rock Casinos and Hotel-Casinos in the western U.S., including Minnesota and states west of the Mississippi River, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and Vancouver. Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos’ growing portfolio consists of 23 hotels and resorts, as well as 168 Hard Rock Cafes, among other Hard Rock venues in more than 71 countries.

Shortly after news of the tribe's purchase, Hamish Dodds, who has led Hard Rock Cafe International Inc. since 2004, announced his intent to step down from his role as its president and CEO in early 2017.

In a significant victory, the Seminole Tribe won a Supreme Court case in an ongoing saga concerning the tribe’s rights to continue operating blackjack and similar house-banked table games for the next 14 years, the duration of the 20-year tribal-state compact. In November, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the Seminole Tribe of Florida may keep its blackjack tables through 2030. In his 36-page decision, Hinkle determined that the state violated the terms of the 20-year tribal-state gaming compact by allowing pari-mutuels throughout Florida to offer “designated-player games” — electronic versions of their house-banked games. The tribe runs table games at five of its seven casinos in Florida.

Also this year, the tribe sold its major citrus operation, Blue Lake Citrus. The tribe had purchased a 60 percent ownership stake in the company in April 2014.

In other news, on September 28, the Seminole Tribal Council voted 4-0 to remove James E. Billie as chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, citing “various issues with policies and procedures of the chairman’s office.” Soon after the tribe elected Marcellus Osceola Jr., 44, an entrepreneur and resident of the Hollywood Seminole Indian Reservation, to lead the tribal council and the board of directors.

Pictured: Semiole Hard Rock Tampa. The tribe owns the global, rock ’n’ roll-themed chain and is now exclusively entitled to develop, own, license, franchise and manage Hard Rock Casinos and Hotel-Casinos in the western U.S., including Minnesota and state west of the Mississippi River, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and Vancouver.

Pictured: Semiole Hard Rock Tampa. The tribe owns the global, rock ’n’ roll-themed chain and is now exclusively entitled to develop, own, license, franchise and manage Hard Rock Casinos and Hotel-Casinos in the western U.S., including Minnesota and state west of the Mississippi River, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and Vancouver.

  1. S&K Aerospace, a subsidiary of S&K Technologies, won a U.S. Air Force contract worth $4.2 billion, the largest single contract in the history of the corporation wholly owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe.

In November, the U.S. Air Force awarded S&K Aerospace on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana a multi-year contract worth at least $4.2 billion over the next 10 years, states a press release.

Under the contract, S&K Aerospace will supply parts and other support to 96 foreign military customers — aircraft, ships, vehicles and various other types of older equipment no longer supported by the U.S. military. S&K will locate parts needed to maintain that equipment. “About anything you could think of that it would take to make up a military, this would support,” Thomas Acevedo, CEO of parent company S&K Technologies, told macon.com.

S&K Aerospace has already been hard at work at the same job for four years, but under a five-year, $975 million contract.

S&K Aerospace, headquartered in northwest Montana, specializes in providing end-to-end information technology, aerospace, and engineering solutions for government agencies and private sector clients.

  1. In August, the Osage Nation purchased media mogul Ted Turner’s 43,000-acre Bluestem Ranch for $74 million.

The purchase restores a portion of the roughly 1.2 million acres that the tribe owned until 1906, when the reservation was allotted to individual tribal members, according to Chief Geoffrey M. Standing Bear. The Osage Reservation once covered the entirety of Osage County.

Turner, the founder of CNN and Turner Broadcasting, ran a bison-raising business during his 15-year ownership of the land.

The Osage Nation plans to continue the bison business. The tribal council has additionally received at least a dozen applications already for additional proposals for the open fields, involving, fishing, hunting and more to turn a profit, while preserving the wildlife and the land. “We are trying to organize ourselves on a preservation side and the profit-making side, and also with the cattle operations to support it,” Standing Bear told Fox 23 News.

  1. In August, Notah Begay III teamed up with REDW LLC, one of the southwest’s 10 largest certified public accounting and business consulting firms.

NBC golf analyst, founder of the Notah Begay III Foundation, and the first full-blooded American Indian (one-half Navajo, one-quarter San Felipe and one-quarter Isleta) to play the PGA Tour, assumed his first ambassador role outside of sports-related contracts this summer.

Begay, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at Stanford University, pursued the relationship with CPA firm REDW LLC to promote financial literacy in tribal communities, and to help REDW build out its services for tribal governments and companies. “Finance is like being in the middle of the ocean, and if you don’t have a boat, you’re going to drown,” Begay told Indian Country Media Network.

That’s why he not only thinks tribes should work with a trusted financial advisor like REDW, he wants Native youth to pursue careers in accounting and finance. “If a Native American kid gets a degree in accounting, they will never not have a job,” Begay said. “There will always be work for them, for the rest of their lives. I think that’s a very strong message to be sent.”

REDW works with about 200 tribes and has been in the space for more than 30 years. Begay underscored that the firm demonstrated loyalty to Indian country before the gaming windfall: “The were in Indian country prior to the introduction of the gaming aspect and have had a consistent presence in over three decades of service to tribes,” he said.

Notah Begay III has inked a partnership with REDW, the national leader in providing accounting and financial services to Tribes.

Notah Begay III has inked a partnership with REDW, the national leader in providing accounting and financial services to Tribes.

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