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Native American Economic Enterprise strives to make tribes independent of federal funds

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Swiss bank accounts on reservations? Tribes not economically dependent on the federal government? Is that a realistic possibility in Indian country?

Yes, says Robert Doore Jr. He believes the world of high finance, in the form of off-shore investment banking and banks run and controlled by tribes is not only possible, but the only real way to self-determination for tribal governments.

Doore was in Lawrence recently to speak to students in Haskell Indian Nations University's business program. He urged them to begin looking beyond the cycle of federal grants to finance programs on reservations in Indian country.

Doore said he firmly believes economic freedom can come to tribes if they put dependence on federal funding in the past and realize that casinos aren't long-term answers for funding tribal programs.

Doore, vice president of the Native American Economic Enterprise Inc. and Glacier International Depository Ltd., envisions the day when tribal governments are able to tell the government they no longer have to jump through hoops for federal monies.

He said he believes that by using their sovereignty, tribes can become financial powerhouses in the new millennium, offering benefits for investors once offered only through Swiss and other offshore investment banking like that in the Cayman Islands.

Glacier International Depository Ltd. was chartered by the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana.

The sovereign status of tribes makes them ideal for setting up such businesses, he said. Investment depositories formed through charters by tribal governments are not subject to state and federal oversight and other banking requirements.

Joe Gervais, Blackfeet tribal treasurer, said the previous tribal council issued the original charter for GID in November of 1999. "I believe the council gave them a one-year charter. At the end of that year, they have to meet certain threshold criteria, otherwise the charter might not be renewed."

He went on to say that although charters like the one issued to GID are brought up for renewal, the ordinance that permits them is not.

Gervais said Glacier is constructing a building on leased land on the reservation and the council will meet with Glacier officials in November when the charter comes up for renewal. At that time, Gervais said, he would have more information.

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Earl Old Person said he wasn't yet familiar with all of the information about Glacier. He did say the last council passed an ordinance which allowed international depositories to exist on the reservation.

The whole concept of international depositories is new to tribal council members, one they are not used to in the course of everyday business. Glacier doesn't accept money from American investors nor does it pay interest to its investors, Doore said. It gives foreign investors a safe place to store their money. It also makes investments for its customers and keeps all transactions confidential, giving foreign investors the safety of the political stability of the United States, without the regulations, he said.

Many experts anticipate that Glacier will be the first trillion-dollar depository, Doore told Haskell business students. He explained that because investors have to undergo a strict screening process, the danger of money laundering or criminal activity has been eliminated.

Doore emphasized that Glacier wasn't an overnight success story, but the result of hard work that began in the 1980s. It was then that he and his father, Robert Doore Sr., began putting plans in place for the investment-banking venture.

One of the hardest steps was getting the Blackfeet tribal government to understand the benefits of chartering Glacier, Doore said. "I call it the difference between filling an immediate need and nation building. We have to look at a long-term way of solving economic problems on the reservation."

Grants and a heavy infrastructure are a sure-fire plan for failure Doore told students. They solve short-term problems, but never succeed because most of the money generated goes off the reservation to other businesses and banking ventures.

By opening up banks, chartered by tribes on Indian land, tribes will see true economic development begin to take place. That, Doore said is where The Native American Economic Enterprise can assist tribes, by helping them get tribal banks on the road to success.

Tribal governments would benefit because of the spirit of Native American people, he said. "We invest back into the community, not because we have to, but because it is ethically and spiritually who we are."

Doore said Glacier plans to put money back into the infrastructure of the Blackfeet tribe with money its deposits make.

"I guess there is some potential there, if they are able to attract those clients to the depository, that will benefit the tribe," Gervais said.

Doore encouraged students to finish their education and apply for jobs off the reservation. "You need that experience of how the world operates."

One major problem Doore sees with tribal governments is that elected officials often believe they are experts in everything that concerns the tribe.

"You have this man who gets elected and suddenly he is an expert on housing ... ," Doore said.

He believes tribal leaders need to stick to the political side of the government, appoint experts in business and other fields that benefit the tribe and then to listen to them.

"That's what Reagan did," Doore said. "He didn't know everything, but he appointed people who were experts and then took their advice."