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Tribal wealth management

First-ever conference shares the wealth of experience

TAMPA, Fla. - Indian casinos have sometimes been called the "new buffalo."
As many Plains tribes in the pre-contact era depended upon the great shaggy
beasts for sustenance, clothing and other important necessities, tribal
governments from coast to coast now rely on gaming revenue to sustain
themselves and their constituencies.

Casino revenue has certainly not penetrated all corners of Indian country.
But for many tribal nations, the days of bingo halls and small-scale
enterprises have given way to full-blown resort casinos - enabling them,
for the first time in generations, to begin to take charge of their
economic futures.

Indian nations are indeed beginning to successfully parlay casino revenue
into other business ventures. Examples of tribally owned enterprises
include not only the increasingly ubiquitous fuel and convenience stores,
but also manufacturing operations of various types, fisheries, ranches,
charter airlines, film studios, banks and even newspapers, to name but a
few. Such diversification of resources bodes well for the future of
business in Indian country.

Now that business know-how and economic success have begun to take root on
the reservation, tribes deciding to enter the gaming and business arena
have resources to which to turn. Tribes across Indian country are beginning
to invest in each other - to help each other grow their casino and other
business operations. One need only read the Trade & Commerce section of
this newspaper for weekly examples of such cooperation and business
diversification.

Indian country's economic expansion has led to a landmark event Nov. 15 -
17 in Tampa, Fla. The Inaugural Tribal Wealth Management Conference offered
a forum for discussion and idea-sharing on a range of business and economic
issues facing tribal governments across Indian country.

Attendees had the opportunity to interact with political and business
leaders from a wide range of tribal governments and enterprises - leaders
on the cutting edge of economic development in Indian country.
Collectively, they have a wealth of first-hand experience to share in areas
like tribal financial planning, trust funds, and a host of other legal and
financial issues unique to Indian country's rapidly expanding business
sector.

The speakers and panelists came from a number of economically successful
tribes including the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Seminole Tribe
of Florida, the Oneida Nation of New York, the Mohegan Tribe, the
Mashantucket Pequot Nation and several others.

Other participants included representatives from such Native interest and
trade groups as the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), the North
American Native American Bankers Association and the Native American Rights
Fund. Non-Native officials from a number of prominent practices, including
financial managers Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, as well as law,
accounting and capital management firms with experience and expertise in
Indian country, were on hand as well.

A few of the many topics covered at the Tribal Wealth Management Conference
were: Establishing and managing trust funds; financial engineering and cash
management; entering the financial services industry; tribal money held in
government trust and cross-tribal enterprise - investing in Native
community development financial institutions.

Safeguarding economic opportunity for future generations requires that
Indian entrepreneurs and governments become proficient in navigating their
way through the world of big business and high finance. They must also
learn to properly manage their assets, to invest wisely, to recognize and
seize opportunity in both their business operations and their investments.

As Indian country continues to slowly accumulate wealth, and as the
reservation and intertribal economies continue to grow, the Tribal Wealth
Management Conference will hopefully become a not-to-be-missed event - one
to which successful Indian leaders and entrepreneurs return to guide those
budding Native entrepreneurs following in their footsteps.