Gros Ventre businesswoman named Minority Advocate of the Year

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TULSA, Okla. – The Oklahoma Native American Business Enterprise Center has named Vernelle Chase as Minority Advocate of the Year. Chase, an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre Tribe from Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana, works as the tribal liaison for the Flintco Companies’ Native American Division headquartered in Tulsa.

As liaison, Chase oversees policy writing and implementation of the Flintco Companies Procurement Matchmaking Initiative. This new initiative, which is being developed in collaboration with the Native American Business Enterprise Centers in Oklahoma and New Mexico, helps identify business opportunities for qualified American Indian construction-related businesses.

“As tribal liaison Vernelle is an integral part of our team,” Flintco CEO Robin Flint-Ballenger said. “She is a driving force in the continued development of our division through her policy development and cultural communications work.”

Flintco ranks among the largest commercial contractors in the nation. Aside from providing quality, innovative construction services, the company’s long-term vision is to involve American Indian construction firms in increasingly meaningful roles on project teams as subcontractors who have the know-how, experience and capacity to perform on a wide variety of building endeavors.

Flintco has constructed thousands of buildings in mainstream communities across the nation and is known for its expertise in handling difficult projects, remodeling and renovations. Flintco has also constructed hundreds of buildings for Indian tribes. Some of the company’s notable projects in Indian country include the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, N.M.; Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, Fort Defiance, Ariz.; Lummi Nation K-12 School, Bellingham, Wash.; Tohono O’odham Skilled Nursing and Child Care Facility, Sells, Ariz.; Hopi Health Care Center, Polacca, Ariz.; and Parker Indian Health Center, Parker, Ariz. They recently completed construction on the $155 million Cherokee Hard Rock Café and Casino in Tulsa, Okla.

Flintco’s penchant for sensitivity to cultural nuances and respect for traditional values has placed them in a position to meet the needs of Native American clients. They have established a good relationship with a number of tribes, pueblos and Indian nations.

Working with Native clients requires an understanding of each tribe’s culture, and that is where Chase comes in. Chase, who has worked for Flintco for 15 years, first addresses a community’s building requirements by visiting and listening as they explain their vision and needs. She then takes the information back to Flintco where the design process begins. Throughout the project, she works to include the tribe, pueblo or rancheria as a full member of the construction team, an important consideration that has helped Flintco cultivate mutually beneficial relationships resulting in projects that reflect Native communities.

Chase also works closely with each community’s Tribal Employment Rights Office, departments that seek to eliminate employment discrimination by creating employment and training opportunities for members. Flintco received its first Tribal Employment Rights Certification in 1991 and has since received certifications from many tribes. With organizations like Oklahoma’s NABEC, Chase helps smooth the process of qualifying local Native subcontractors on community projects. By doing so, she helps involve and optimize the talents of the local workforce.

“Anybody can raise a building, but being the world’s largest Native American construction company comes with a lot of responsibility. We pride ourselves on providing diversity training for our employees and utilizing our experience to honor our commitments to projects with cultural sensitivity and relevance.”

Chase said Native Americans have a history of creating successful intertribal alliances based on mutual objectives such as trade. “Once we had to rely on one another for our survival because we had next to nothing for so long. It is a dynamic time for Indian country now, however. Our nations are becoming legally, educationally and economically stronger day-by-day. We are taking the reins and calling the shots in our own communities, and we empower one another through mutual support.

“Our company encourages Native to Native business opportunities, and by doing so, Flintco is leaving behind much more than just state-of-the-art buildings; we are helping to support sovereignty and self-sufficiency in our Native communities.”

Chase is honored to be recognized for her efforts.

“We’re excited that Vernelle’s commitment to Indian country has been recognized by NABEC. She is a tireless advocate for Native American issues professionally and personally,” Ballenger said.

NABEC provides business advisory services and other critical resources to ensure the continued success of minority-owned businesses, and strives to assist minority business owners in reaching the next stage of growth.