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NCAIED forms partnership to expand Native business opportunities

LAS VEGAS – The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development had a lot to celebrate on its 40th anniversary during the annual Reservation Economic Summit in March.

When RES 2009 came to an end, the center had signed several Memoranda of Understanding with major business partners, and had provided an arena for Indian businesses to generate millions of dollars

in contracts.

A constant mantra during the conference was to encourage and implement Native-to-Native business.

NCAIED and the National Indian Gaming Association signed an MOU, renewing an existing partnership to promote the American Indian Business Network. The network is a special project launched by NIGA in 2003 to improve the advocacy of Indian businesses either owned by a tribe as an enterprise or by an individual tribal member.

“NIGA created the AIBN to build on our greatest resource – Indian country. We must be committed to the continued development of a true Indian country economy by funneling more tribal spending to Native enterprises, and it is through partnerships such as this that create a bond through relationship building and ensures a high level of quality in products, a dedicated commitment to services, and much needed growth to tribal economies,” NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. said.

“This partnership is a natural fit with NIGA. It seems we are finally at the point in our economic development growth to create real business opportunities between our Native nations and Native entrepreneurs,” said Margo Gray-Proctor, the center’s newly appointed chairwoman.

This year marked the fourth decade of increasingly successful business development for NCAIED. From its early days in 1969 as a grassroots economic development organization formed by a handful of American Indian community leaders in California until today, NCAIED has helped tribes earn more than $4.5 billion in contracts and financing through its programs and services.

NCAIED also signed an MOU with the Native American Group, which was one of the major sponsors of RES 2009. The Native American Group was represented by Richard Bowers Jr., the president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida has made tremendous strides and is clearly one of the models of success for sovereign governments in economic development,” Gray-Proctor said in introducing Bowers at the conference.

The Seminoles have met success with innovative business initiatives. The tribe has around 100,000 acres of reservation land and offers eco-tours of the Everglades, a Native village featuring deep water alligator wrestling – an activity in which Bowers excelled in his earlier days – and a wildlife presentation, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki (“a place to learn”) Museum, an RV resort, campgrounds and hunting adventures.

But most of its revenue comes from its seven casinos on its six non-contiguous reservations, including two Hard Rock casinos in Miami and Tampa.

It was the Seminoles who trail-blazed high stakes bingo in Indian country in the ’70s, and created one of the most successful gaming operations in the world, even though the tribe was restricted to Class II gaming.

In late 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a compact with the tribe for Class III gaming. The compact has come under attack by the Florida legislature, was invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court, and is still in the courts.

But the tribe has continued its gaming enterprises and expanded its business interests widely. In March 2007, the tribe finalized its $965 million purchase of Hard Rock International in what was believed to be the first major acquisition of an international corporation by an American Indian tribe. The purchase included a network of 124 signature Hard Rock Cafes in 46 countries, and the world’s largest collection of rock memorabilia – around 70,000 items.

Bowers, who spearheaded the Native American Group, reiterated the conference theme of Native-to-Native business and encouraged tribes to join

the consortium.

“We have over 100 tribes signed up and over 4,000 services and products that have been registered with our group. We just need to work with each other and buy from each other and keep that dollar in Indian country going around and around.”

The MOU formalized a partnership between NCAIED and the Native American Group “to achieve their mutual goal of expanding sales and contracting for all Native-owned businesses.”

The partners will initiate a pilot project “with a goal of increasing the number and value of sales made and contracts awarded under the auspices of this MOU.”

The center also entered into an MOU with the Department of Interior Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development to develop a comprehensive tribal economic development strategy and integrate federal program and tribal organization resources to improve economic conditions and grow new businesses, job opportunities and access to capital in Indian country.

Gray-Proctor said the agreements signed at RES were a significant achievement.

“The MOUs we signed are not your basic vanilla MOUs which are, oh, we’ll attend your event if you attend ours. We put a lot of thought into how we can work together to make Indian country stronger. If you look at the different groups that we have within the MOUs that we signed, there’s always power in numbers and when you have everyone getting along and coming together, that’s what’s strong. We’re strengthening the voice of Indian country in economic development.”