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Oklahoma Tribe Opens First Business Since HEARTH Act Enacted

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A little more than a year after U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell traveled to central Oklahoma to announce regulations to promote self-determination and economic development through tribal trust land leases, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has opened its first business under the new guidelines.

The Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act, or HEARTH Act, allows tribes to develop and implement their own laws governing leasing of federal tribal trust lands for residential, business, renewable energy and other purposes. Under the law, tribes can lease their lands without federal approval, which the federal government and tribes say helps promote self-determination and job creation.

Jack Barrett started BDC Gun Room by accident, he says. A lifelong hunter and shooter, Barrett received his federal firearms license in 2007. In 2009, he opened a small storefront gun store. Three years later it tripled in size, and in late 2014, BDC Gun Room grew even more -- to a 35,000-square-foot showroom featuring shooting, hunting and outdoor merchandise -- thanks to the HEARTH Act. "I was poised for growth," Barrett told ICTMN. "My business had grown and grown quite a bit, and I knew the HEARTH Act was coming. I didn't know exactly when, but I wanted to take advantage of that."

Barrett, who is a tribal member and had previously conducted business with the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp., said he sold the tribe on the idea of partnering with him on the project even before the Act was enacted. "I knew I wanted to be in with the development and entertainment district that the Citizen Potawatomi had going here - with the casino, the bowling alley, the ballfields. I knew I wanted to be a part of that," he said.

CPN Vice Chairman Linda Capps noted that BDC Gun Room had already found success in Shawnee and that Barrett was a tribal member. Barrett is the son of CPN Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett, but Jack Barrett said he interacted solely with the tribal legislature, Vice Chairman Capps and Secretary-Treasurer D. Wayne Trousdale to ensure there was no impropriety going on. "Since Jack was already looking to expand and was familiar with the tribal government, it was the perfect fit for our first endeavor," Capps said.

But first, the CPN legislature had to enact legislation, which was then sent to Secretary Jewell for approval. Barrett said this was one of the most challenging aspects of the process because he had to convince the full tribal legislature - not all of whom knew him - to support his personal business as it existed and on the merits of the business plan as it would be operating.

Trust is an integral part of doing any business transaction, Capps said, and there must be total trust for a Native or a non-Native to establish their land business on tribal land. "Getting through the various stages of the agreement can be trying," she said, adding that the tenant must be familiar with all tribal, federal and applicable state laws. The initial lease terms must also be carefully thought through as well as the decision to hold the tenant harmless from double taxation. "Even with these issues or obstacles, the HEARTH Act brings a whole new dimension to doing business in Indian Country - one that will be duplicated for years to come," she added.

The ability for tribes to control their own land is the ability to control their destiny, Capps said, and she believes the HEARTH Act will increase the amount of development in rural communities and create more jobs.

RELATED: Seminoles Become First Nation of 2015 to Receive HEARTH Act Approval

Barrett currently employs 16 people, up from seven in 2012. "Everything about business is location, location, location, and here on one of the busiest intersections in the county ... it presents a lot of opportunities for small, medium and even large manufacturing, service or entertainment companies," Barrett said of the benefits of the HEARTH Act.

The businessman has two pieces of advice for people looking to take advantage of the regulations in the future: make sure to have a detailed and effective business plan as well as plenty of patience.

The HEARTH Act allows the Citizen Potawatomi Nation to pursue both business and residential partnerships, and Capps said the tribe is considering affordable housing on tribal land. "Shawnee is a large city and we'd like to bring in the amenities that people are looking for," she said. "We want people to visit and live in our communities and we're going to try and make that easy for them to do."

Jewell recently approved regulations for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, bringing the total number of tribes taking advantage of the HEARTH Act to 15. Fourteen more tribes have leasing regulations under review, according to a news release from the Department of the Interior.

"Today’s agreement will encourage economic development and help create jobs while strengthening tribal sovereignty and self-determination by putting these decisions back in the hands of the tribe," Jewell said at the signing, according to a release from the Department of the Interior.

Barrett agrees, and he said a major reason that his business and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation have found success in their endeavors is because of customer service.

"It's about how we treat people," he said. People can go anywhere to gamble or eat, he noted, but it's how people are treated. The same is true for his business. "I started out with that same idea when I was a small business, when it was just me. I came at it as an approach from a customer, and so I surround myself with good people and we concentrate on excellent customer service."