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Signs of economic unity source of hope for Indian country

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American Indian nations have a status that predates the country's designation of minority; there is a status beyond race and beyond numbers that resides in the long-term inhabitation on the land, one that predates the formation of the United States. This is unique to American Indians in history and U.S. law and is the basis of sovereign self-governance. Nevertheless, the people of the 560-plus American Indian nations are at most one percent of the country's people and Indian nation land bases are but small pieces of the American landscape.

In this context it is clear that any attempt at unity, any efforts that coalesce Indian power bases of any sort, but particularly those designed to multiply advantage in developing economic opportunities, are very welcome indeed.

Unity of purpose is not always possible. Sometimes, it may not even be desirable. But, when mutual advantage can generate the needed elements to make positive movement happen, these are examples worth recognizing and emulating.

We are happy to note some examples of unity by Native peoples.

Indian Country Today recently reported on an initiative by Ho-Chunk, Inc., owned by the Winnebago Tribe, which in partnership with the Shakopee tribe of Minnesota, generously assists the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska. The Santee have endured arbitrary dismissal by Nebraska, and the federal government which went to court to close its Ohiya Casino and obtained ruinous fines. Their two partner tribes have committed to getting the Santee self-sufficient. The new Santee business, a motor fuel plaza, is the first of several planned enterprises for the impoverished reservation, which is saddled with a 75 percent unemployment rate. The Mdewakakanton Dakota Tribe of Prior Lake Minnesota (Shakopee), who run the country's second most profitable casino, are particularly congratulated for their continuing commitment to helping tribes start their own business operations.

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Another example is the Rocky Boy Credit Outreach Program, part of the American Indian Credit Outreach Initiative, which links Indian operators to credit counselors to help secure and pay back agricultural loans.

In October, four tribes announced their partnership in launching the first American Indian hotel in Washington, D.C., to be located in a prime location near the National Mall. The hotel will be a $43 million, 13-story, 223-suite Residence Inn by Marriott. Two Wisconsin tribes, the Forest County Potawatomi and the Oneida Tribe, and two tribes from California, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, jointed to form Four Fires, LLC., which backs the venture. Their idea is to capitalize on their business experience in the hospitality industry and to maximize their common resources. The hotel's opening is set to coincide with the inauguration of the National Museum of the American Indian.

An interesting financial transaction took place on August 26, reported in American Indian Report, which saw a Native-owned bank, on advice from a Native-owned fixed assets management firm, buy securities through a Native-owned broker, a transaction then executed through a Native brokerage firm. Four financial institutions, all Indian linked up to carry on business.

Another example worth commending is a venture by the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribe launching a partnered laundry company, building together an $8 million plant in a Norwich industrial park. The business will employ some 60 people. The City of Norwich likes the new off-reservation Indian business, which will pay taxes to the city. But everybody, particularly the two tribal casino resorts, wins. The two Indian partners, due to their own sheer volume and laundering expertise, stand poised to derive other profits from the laundry facility, which will be able to sell its service to other area businesses.

It may not be a trend, but it is certainly the beginning of an emerging reality: American Indians doing business with each other. The Native American Bank, for example, was formed and is owned by twenty different tribes. Economic growth has opened the opportunity for American Indians to gain expertise at venturing forth together. Brad Fluetsch, chief executive officer of Raven Asset Management, calls it, "a virtuous circle." Indeed, when Indian Country Today developed its weekly economic focus through its Trade & Commerce section three years ago, it was envisioned that old trade routes might be renewed, while new Indian business partnerships might create dramatic economic potentials.

These are win-win examples of Native nations bringing to bear multiplied economic clout and opportunity by working together. In political initiatives, from California to Arizona to Idaho, American Indian nations have worked in common to achieve their objectives. Indian unity around economic or business goals, while perhaps even more difficult and complex, is nevertheless achievable. American Indian unity, where possible, is a sign of social, political and economic intelligence and leadership maturity, and is a proven winner.