When Mandaree Enterprises, LLC, an instrumentality of the Three Affiliated Tribes, opened for business in 1990, our primary objective was simply to generate some much-needed employment on the Fort Berthold Reservation. We started with little: no working capital, five employees, one product, and a single customer to go along with it in the form of our corporate mentor. A recipe for disaster, yet we were able to grow, tremendously in fact. Today, Mandaree Enterprises encompasses a family of companies with operations in 27 states and abroad, dozens of federal and commercial clients, and hundreds of employees. Like many minority-owned enterprises, we built our business in the federal marketplace, pursuing contracts that advantage “disadvantaged” companies. The federal government is still a great customer, but our growth over the past quarter-century has enabled us to diversify and to pursue commercial opportunities as well. In recent years, our focus has moved sharply in the direction of partnerships and acquisitions. You see, we want to do more than just grow our business and increase our revenue. We want to effect a dramatic increase in the presence, visibility, and influence of Native Americans and Native American entrepreneurship in this country. That’s why we’re committed to “Buying Back America” – one business at a time.
Mandaree Enterprises’ commercial acquisitions in the past few years have not only stretched our geographic footprint and added to our list of products and competencies, they have brought businesses under tribal ownership. That matters. Ownership generates power and influence; two things of which indigenous America is in desperately short supply. American companies play a significant role not only in the direction of the U.S. economy, but of public policy, and even public opinion. Ownership is a platform from which to be seen and heard; and, of course, the more one owns, the larger the platform. Increased tribal corporate ownership has the potential to create a fundamental shift in tribes’ relationships with federal and state authorities, lawmakers, and the larger American public; to raise the profile of Native Americans nationally and internationally; and to further inspire indigenous entrepreneurship.
Naturally, we recognize that our vision of “Buying Back America,” of reclaiming power and influence in this country through commercial acquisition on a large-scale, exceeds the scope of any single tribal company. That is why we are actively encouraging and inviting other successful tribal businesses to join in the effort. Working in parallel, we can accomplish more; working in concert, we can accomplish the most. Tribal businesses working collaboratively can forge strategic partnerships, pool resources, share strategy, and even mentor aspiring Native entrepreneurs who demonstrate strong passion. A coordinated effort to “Buy Back America” would not only deliver the larger platform we seek, it would deliver a platform of profound significance. We can change the business landscape of this country, and we can offer a sharp corrective to the entrenched undervaluation of our Native American talent, business structure, and resources, both from outside and from within the borders of Indian country. As sovereign entities imbued with advantageous legal differences, tribal businesses make highly desirable partners for businesses large and small, municipalities, states, and the federal government. To Mandaree Enterprises, “Buying Back America” is not about cutting out or cutting off non-Native businesses, and it is certainly not about avenging historical wrongs. It is about tribal businesses working strategically and collaboratively to position the Native American community for maximal access, exposure, and influence. It is about participating in and contributing to an American economic and commercial culture that embraces diversity as a source of innovation, and that welcomes all groups to the table, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense.
So, to paraphrase a great leader of the past, Chief Sitting Bull, let us put our minds together and see what future we can make for our people.
Since 1993, Clarence O’Berry has served as the President/CEO of Mandaree Enterprises, LLC (MEL), which is wholly owned and operated by the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Under his leadership, Mandaree Enterprises has grown from a small, reservation-based manufacturing outfit into a diverse family of companies with operations across the United States and abroad. Clarence’s tenure at Mandaree Enterprises has been distinguished by numerous honors, including, most recently, the 2016 U.S. Small Business Administration’s Entrepreneurial Success Award for the state of North Dakota and selection to the national cohort of the prestigious Goldman Sachs 10k Small Businesses program. Clarence is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Sioux Tribe.