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USET Focuses on Economic Development at Annual Meeting

The United South and Eastern Tribes kicked off its annual meeting Monday (October 26) with a major focus on the organization’s newest initiative: tribal economic development.

USET is a 47-year-old nonprofit, intertribal organization representing 26 federally recognized tribes at the regional and national levels. It operates various workgroups and committees and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information among tribes, agencies and governments.

USET announced the launch of its economic development program in a statement in September. “USET is pleased to announce that the organization is beginning a new era of service to Tribal members. With generous support and investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration-Philadelphia Regional office (EDA), through its Technical Assistance program, USET will begin its work to create an Economic Development Department,” the statement said. USET and the EDA entered a formal agreement on an investment grant to begin economic development initiatives including the creation of a community development financial institution (CDFI), increasing participation and outcomes in economic development initiatives with EDA and USET, data collection, and technical assistance to tribes.

Details on the new economic development program will be formally presented this week at the annual meeting, which is hosted this year by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

USET President Brian Patterson emphasized that economic development is not the theme of the meeting—“We don’t have a theme,” he said—but rather is the focus of every aspect of the meeting because it is the foundation of sovereignty for tribal nations.

“Economic development is key and center. It is self-determination and action. It is self-sufficiency. It is truly realizing the full potential of Indian country,” Patterson said.

Patterson, who is a Bear Clan representative to the Oneida Indian Nation council, noted that before the European invasion, Native nations had economies built on vast networks of trade. He illustrating the statement with a story.

“I was standing in the Tohono O’odham desert one time and I met a Blackfeet man by the name of Curly Bearand. He says up in their mountains in one of the caves, ‘We found one of your masks, one of the Haudenosaunee masks.’ So the influence of trade and commerce was far-reaching and it manifested itself through these international trade agreements,” Patterson said.

Economic development, then, is crucial to rebuilding the strengths of the nations, Patterson said.

“Economic development is USET’s central platform and we’re going to build that out, and build out strong tribal governments. It’s the essential component to nation rebuilding, to realizing our full vision, our full potential, and our full impact to sustain a viable future generation,” Patterson said. “We haven’t even reached the cusp of the hill to realize our full potential. But as we move up the hill, as we expand on our central value of unity, as we pull each other up that hill, we do so intentionally.”