Seattle attorney warns tribes to make wise economic choices

Author:
Updated:
Original:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - During the last decade, several tribes have
experienced a meteoric rise in their fortunes due to gaming; and a number
of those tribes have began to make inroads to diversify their tribal
economies. These range from outlet shopping centers to tribal golf courses
and other endeavors.

However, Debora Juarez, a Seattle-area attorney and a member of the
Blackfeet tribe as well as its tribal counsel, warns that tribes must be
very careful to create stable economies and use the opportunities that
gaming has afforded some tribes to make the right choices for their
economic future.

Juarez, 42, has worn several hats in her lifetime, having worked for
financial services firm Morgan Stanley, served as a King County judge and
worked for two Washington state governors.

Juarez is most concerned with where tribes will go with their recent
economic gains.

"Tribes really need to make sure that they are going to make the right
choices," she observed.

Juarez argued that given the recent attempts in California and Washington
state to curb Indian gaming or open up gaming to non-Indians, it is just a
matter of time before one of these initiatives will be successful and doom
Indian gaming, leaving tribes scrambling for other economic opportunities.

"We can't be hostage to the gaming industry; it's too hostile and too
political. We need to start making choices that are less controversial."

Though Juarez said she does not like to "use the race card," she maintains
that many - though certainly not all - of the groups targeting Indian
gaming are using a controversial industry like gaming to attack American
Indian tribes because of racist sentiment. Building on less controversial
industries would also help to blunt these attacks.

"It is unfair because in other industries, say Microsoft or Weyerhaeuser or
Nordstrom, no one is trying to take away their right to make money; they're
considered pillars of the community, but there's a double standard when it
comes to Indian gaming," observed Juarez.

However, Juarez cautioned that tribes need to be careful with those choices
and not give in to the quick fix that might ultimately do more harm than
good.

"[Tribes] need to do something healthy, not just put up a McDonald's or a
strip mall," observed Juarez. "It doesn't need to be something
'traditional,' but something that will ensure the future health of the
community."

That growth, she contended, includes finding businesses in which tribal
members can participate for their own growth and "not just come home from
school and learn to deal cards at the casino"; and not just hastily
throwing up chain stores, restaurants or, especially, low-end liquor
stores.

What Juarez ultimately would like to see are various tribes attracting
mainstream industries so they can be regional players. In a paper she wrote
with Gabriel Galanda, one of her law partners at Williams, Kastner & Gibbs
PLLC, "Attracting private investment in Indian country," (Indian Country
Today, Vol. 24, Iss. 48), both advocated that tribes utilize a variety of
avenues that are open to them to better develop businesses.

Among these avenues are several federal tax incentive programs that are
designed to give tax breaks to companies that serve historically
economically disadvantaged communities, as well as other programs that give
companies tax breaks for hiring American Indians.

Since federal law has been broadly interpreted to give tribes essentially
the same rights as states, Juarez also suggested that tribes follow the
model of the state of Vermont, which, under former Gov. Howard Dean,
started insuring big companies'so they wouldn't have to do so in places
like the Cayman Islands.

In all, Juarez noted that this is the time for tribes to start planning for
a solid, healthy economic future.

"Tribes need to start putting together a tribal plan that future
generations can harness.