In my capacity as general counsel for the National Indian Cannabis Coalition, I (and the rest of the industry) have been closely tracking the President-Elect’s Cabinet nominations.  Cannabis legalization is perched precariously on the two prongs of (1) states’ rights; and (2) the Department of Justice’s policy position allowing United States district attorneys to decline to enforce cannabis-related violations of the Controlled Substances Act.  Congress doubled down by passing legislation withholding funding for the prosecution of marijuana crimes when the activity is legal under state law.

Those thinking about this issue and trying to gaze into the crystal ball to see past January 19, 2017 generally think that the costs associated with infringing on a state’s right to make its own laws by federal enforcement of federal marijuana laws may be to high to be realistic.  The fact that over half the states have some form of legalized marijuana, the number of potential unhappy constituents, loss of tax revenue from a $7 billion dollar industry and number of jobs lost if the marijuana violations were prosecuted also creates a political reality that would be difficult to overcome.

However, the DOJ’s policy is just that – a policy, not a law.  It can be changed with the stroke of an Attorney General Session’s pen.  And while I believe the states’ rights argument may protect the states from federal enforcement, I am concerned that same argument might not apply to tribes.

The Wilkinson Memo allows a United States District Attorney the discretion to determine whether to expend resources prosecuting marijuana violations in Indian Country located within their district.  Indian Country is federal land.  Given his previous statements on marijuana, I can see how an Attorney General Sessions might leave the states legalization alone while taking a hard line position on enforcement and prosecution of marijuana violations on all federal land, including Indian Country.  After all, “good people do not smoke marijuana”.  

For now, we do not know whether the Senate will even confirm Sen. Sessions or if this will be an issue that the Trump Administration will care anything about.  What is clear, however, is that for there to be stability in the industry and for tribes to be able to participate in this booming economic development opportunity without fear of losing their investment or other federal funding, Congress will need to act.

“trying to see the future”

Lael

Did you know that tourism supports more than 8.1 million jobs in the United States?

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that one out of every 18 Americans is employed by travel and tourism related businesses – most of which are small firms.

In 2012, President Obama launched the National Travel and Tourism Strategy, charting a new course toward making America a more attractive and accessible destination than ever before. The Strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors by 2021, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending by 2012. The strategy also encourages more Americans to travel within the United States. In 2013, international visitors spend $180.7 billion dollars on U.S. travel and tourism related goods and services.

How can Indian Country benefit from this booming industry? 

As Indian gaming began to boom, gaming tribes began to think about how to draw their customers to their facilities. Soon magnificent facilities like the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Buffalo Thunder Resort sprang up.  At the same time, a small tribal organization with a mission “to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values” was steadily growing.  Today, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Organization (“AIANTA”) is flourishing.

This week AIANTA was in D.C. in support of H.R. 3477, a bill “To enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States. ”  This bill would authorize a MOU between AIANTA and the Department of Interior in consultation with the Department of Commerce to provide technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations to participate fully in the tourism industry.

H.R. 3477 requires the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce to update their respective management plans and tourism initiatives to include a Native American Tourism Plan.  The Native American Tourism Plans are to do the following:

(1) IN GENERAL.—The plans shall outline policy proposals—

(A) to improve travel and tourism data collection and analysis;

(B) to increase the integration, alignment, and utility of public records, publications, and Web sites maintained by Federal agencies;

(C) to create a better user experience for domestic travelers and international visitors;

(D) to align Federal agency Web sites and publications;

(E) to support national tourism goals;

(F) to identify agency programs that could be used to support tourism capacity building and help sustain tourism infrastructure in Native American communities;

(G) to develop innovative visitor portals for parks, landmarks, heritage and cultural sites, and assets that showcase and respect the diversity of the indigenous peoples of the United States;

(H) to share local Native American heritage through the development of bilingual interpretive and directional signage that could include or incorporate English and the local Native American language or languages; and

(I) to improve access to transportation programs related to Native American community capacity building for tourism and trade, including transportation planning for programs related to visitor enhancement and safety.

If you or your tribe is interested in this legislation or want to learn more, you can contact the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.  A link to the hearing on H.R. 3744 is here.

Tell our own story and protect our sacred sites.

For two hundred years, American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian history has been told by the “conquerors” and not by us.  Tourism gives us the opportunity to tell our own story in our own words in our own places.  The Desert View Tribal Heritage Project is a great example of this.  Groups including AIANTA  and the Grand Canyon’s ItAC, established in 2013, composed of representatives from the park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai-Apache, and five bands of Southern Paiute represented by the Kaibab Paiute) collaborate with the NPS on issues that affect each of the tribes and the park including working on programs such as youth development, tribal tourism opportunities, and cultural demonstrations. Today, Desert View represents the physical and cultural gateway from Grand Canyon National Park to the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

A signature project for next year’s National Park Service Centennial, the revival of Desert View as a cultural heritage site will provide opportunities for the public to connect with Grand Canyon’s Traditionally Associated Tribes. This transformation also ensures that future generations of tribal members and visitors will have an opportunity to make and share meaningful experiences and stories. “This project re-envisions how visitors experience Desert View and the entire park and will lead us and the NPS into the next century. We are grateful for the support of ArtPlace America and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the hard work of our Inter-tribal Advisory Council,” said Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.

This is just an example of what can be accomplished for the benefit not only of Native People but those tourists who would like to learn more about us and the places we live.  I know that there is some hesitation about inviting non-Native people into our homelands but there are ways to do it that keep our communities safe while participating in a booming industry in a culturally appropriate way.  Done right, tourism can be not only an economic development opportunity but an education opportunity and a means to protecting our cultural resources.  Big thanks to AIANTA for leading the way!

With Respect,
Lael

policy photoWell, the gold rush is on in Indian Country. Cannabis is being touted as the next “green buffalo” and the cure to all our economic woes. (BTW – I wish we would really stop using the “buffalo” analogy, but I digress). While I agree that there could be economic benefit to participating in the industry in some form (see my earlier post Economic Development), my swan-dive into tribal cannabis has left me scratching my head as to how tribes can participate in this pseudo-legal industry as anything more than a governmental body.

What in the world am I talking about!?

Tribes are heavily reliant on federal funding for their governments. Marijuana is illegal. None of the memos released by the Department of Justice change the law. Every contract and grant and self-governance compact that is executed with the federal government states that the recipient of federal funding will comply with federal law. Explicit or implicit in that agreement is that failure to comply with federal law could result in the loss of those funds. In other words, a tribe’s participation in the cannabis industry could result in the loss of their federal funding.

Whenever I mention that little factoid to people, their response is inevitably, “Well states are doing it, so why not tribes?” Here’s the thing – states are actually NOT doing it.

States are not participating in the cannabis industry as commercial entities. Instead, they are performing the governmental functions of licensing, regulating, enforcing and taxing. I think that tribes engaged in legalizing and then performing those governmental functions do not risk their federal funding the same way they are if they engage as an industry participant.

Is there a way around that? Well, there might be.

I was reading an article about Veterans Affairs and its interaction with veterans suffering from PTSD using marijuana and discovered VHA Directive 2011-004 “Access To Clinical Programs For Veterans Participating In State-Approved Marijuana Programs.” This Directive clearly states that the VA cannot terminate a veteran’s benefits if it is discovered that they are using medicinal marijuana in states that have legalized medicinal marijuana use.  I will repeat – a federal agency has issued a directive forbidding the termination of federal benefits to a person using “legal” medicinal marijuana.

Having worked in DC off and on my entire career, I know that the whims of politics and policy can change quickly (or slowly depending on what you are looking for).  But, I do think that tribes could use this Directive as precedent to seek a similar directive from federal agencies such as the Small Business Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture and so on.

This industry is still new and policy is uncertain. For clarity’s sake, those in Indian Country looking to participate in the industry need to be working Congress and the Administration for better guidance. I believe this Directive provides valuable precedent for tribes seeking guidance from federal agencies.

Warning Regarding Federal Law: The possession, distribution, and manufacturing of marijuana is illegal under federal law, regardless of state law which may, in some jurisdictions, decriminalize such activity under certain circumstances. Federal penalties for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”) are serious and, depending on the quantity of marijuana involved, can include criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,000,000. 21 U.S.C. § 841. The penalties increase if the sale or possession with intent occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, university, playground, or public housing facility. 21 U.S.C. § 860. In addition, the federal government may seize, and seek the civil forfeiture of, the real or personal property used to facilitate the sale of marijuana as well as the money or other proceeds from the sale. 21 U.S.C. § 881. Although the U.S. Department of Justice has noted that an effective state regulatory system, and compliance with such a system, should be considered in the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion, its authority to prosecute violations of the CSA is not diminished by the passage of state laws which may permit such activity. Indeed, due to the federal government’s jurisdiction over interstate commerce, when businesses provide services to marijuana producers, processors or distributors located in multiple states, they potentially face a higher level of scrutiny from federal authorities than do their customers with local operations.

Create New Business

I’m at the Federal Bar Association’s 40th Annual Federal Indian Law Conference occurring this week. Hordes of “ndn” lawyers show up with our braids glistening and cowboy boots polished to a high sheen. NNABA and NNALSA hold their annual meetings and hundreds of Indian law practitioners cram into conference rooms to talk story and commiserate about the Supreme Court’s latest jabs at the fundamental principles of Indian law that guide our practice.

I was asked to present on Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in Indian Country. After googling how to spell “entrepreneurship,” I started to think about what economic development and entrepreneurship mean in Indian Country, and more to the point, how Indian law practitioners can assist in its development.

If you follow this blog, you know that for the past several months, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time talking about Marijuana in Indian Country. What is particularly interesting about the cannabis issue is that for the first time since the gaming boom, Indian Country is being bombarded by commercial industry.

I’m sorry, WHAAAAAT???? Wasn’t it just six months ago that we were bemoaning the fact that it is nearly impossible to coax businesses into Indian Country?

A 2011 Forbes article entitled, Why Are Indian Reservations So Poor? A Look At The Bottom 1% said, “Companies and investors are often reluctant to do business on reservations … because getting contracts enforced under tribal law can be iffy. Indian nations can be small and issues don’t come up that often, so commercial codes aren’t well-developed and precedents are lacking. And Indian defendants have a home court advantage.” As a tribal attorney I can’t tell you how many times I would talk to a vendor interested in doing business with the gaming operation and hear them say that tribal courts cannot be trusted. And yet today, I’m fielding non-stop emails and calls from non-Indian businesses interested in both learning about their “Indian grandmother princess” heritage and asking me to facilitate meetings with tribes about the opportunities in the Cannabis industry.

What has changed?

Quick answer? Not a single thing – except that this “emerging industry” is seeing those issues that were formerly viewed as a detriment as a positive. Sovereign immunity is now viewed as an asset, gaps in tribal legislation are viewed as an opportunity to develop cutting edge legislation outside of state politics, tribal history of co-regulation with the federal government is a benefit to ensuring federal cooperation and non-enforcement of federal law. Marijuana is, after all, still an illegal substance.

In other words, the cannabis industry is viewing partnerships with tribes as a positive not a negative.

The question that is plaguing me is how to translate this remarkable change of perception of Indian Country into bringing other businesses out into Indian Country. Cities like Seattle, San Jose, and Denver have developed strong reputations as good “start-up” cities. They did this by creating a favorable business environment and supplying resources to the businesses that either start or move there. They provide access to venture capital, business friendly tax structures, access to real estate, beneficial zoning and permitting processes, good infrastructure and access to universities and research centers.

Tribes can do this too.  Indian Country has a significant amount of latitude when drafting their ordinances and regulations and can create a business friendly legal environment that both attracts and cultivates business.  And even beyond that, tribes can leverage their existing relationships with universities, insurance companies, bonding, financial services, vendors, and access to legal counsel to assist their tribal members to develop their own businesses. For example, tribes can develop relationships with colleges and universities to provide on reservation or online business classes to their tribal members. Once a tribal member reaches a point of opening their own company, tribes can use their own legal counsel to provide the tribal member with assistance incorporating the business and reviewing contracts and proposals.

Economic development and entrepreneurship in Indian Country is possible, but requires creativity, innovation and good legal minds to implement that agenda.

Loving my job,
L

Warning Regarding Federal Law: The possession, distribution, and manufacturing of marijuana is illegal under federal law, regardless of state law which may, in some jurisdictions, decriminalize such activity under certain circumstances. Federal penalties for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”) are serious and, depending on the quantity of marijuana involved, can include criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,000,000. 21 U.S.C. § 841. The penalties increase if the sale or possession with intent occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, university, playground, or public housing facility. 21 U.S.C. § 860. In addition, the federal government may seize, and seek the civil forfeiture of, the real or personal property used to facilitate the sale of marijuana as well as the money or other proceeds from the sale. 21 U.S.C. § 881. Although the U.S. Department of Justice has noted that an effective state regulatory system, and compliance with such a system, should be considered in the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion, its authority to prosecute violations of the CSA is not diminished by the passage of state laws which may permit such activity. Indeed, due to the federal government’s jurisdiction over interstate commerce, when businesses provide services to marijuana producers, processors or distributors located in multiple states, they potentially face a higher level of scrutiny from federal authorities than do their customers with local operations.

On October 15-16, Andrea Alexander (Makah) will be a featured speaker at the “Taking Smoke Signals Digital” Conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino, Tulalip, WA.

Andrea Alexander has over 30 years experience of development in the native community and runs her own business, Energy Innovation Foundation. Her firm provides strategic planning and project development for Tribal governments and non-profit organizations. Andrea Alexander has been a native community activist for 10 years for telecommunications and energy and stays current on the policy & programs that impacts the tribes.

Andrea Alexander commented on the problem facing native communities: The lack of reliable broadband has an adverse impact on the many services each Tribal government has to deliver in aspects of healthcare, education, transportation and commerce.

According to Andrea, “My tribe doesn’t have full access to broadband. The current policy depends on the private sector to build the infrastructure, but if the population is too small, the investment will not happen. It’s a huge problem and we’re in a huge crisis situation. The fact that our children can’t take the required state tests because we don’t have 4G has helped to motivate leadership to take action and give new to life to this important policy issue. We are seeking economic parity to broadband to gain full access to the internet as well as broader cell phone coverage for all rural tribal communities.”

Andrea has served as the Director of Energy for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Deputy Director for the Washington State Office on Indian Affairs, and her own tribe, the Makah Nation to create public/private partnerships in the Northwest. As the current Co-Chair for the ATNI Telecommunications Committee, she hopes the conference attendees will help:

“Recruit new stakeholders to this issue that will travel to Tulalip and learn about our issues. The conference location will help attract active allies willing to help northwest native people address the growing technology issues we face. We need help in building a broad-based, diverse movement committed to solving the lack of connectivity. In today’s world, all services and businesses are dependent on the internet and without it the people who live and work in these areas are at a distinct disadvantage. The fact that we still have large areas without broadband service is a form of economic racism and is essentially redlining these communities.”

“On October 16, there will be an ATNI Technology Committee work session to bring the common policy issues to light and build the necessary consensus to create strategies to overcome obstacles in the technology field. Once we get people to agree on the problem, then we can work on developing a shared strategy to overcome any barriers. Funding for broadband initiatives is our biggest challenge right now; the lack of funds and the high level of complexity in the application process is one area we can address right away. We have a short game and long game for policy change. As northwest native people, we linked to our sense of place – we will always be here. I have been taught by my Elders, success is not just about big money or big politics, it is also being committed to hanging in over the long haul. We always look forward to the great hospitality of our Tulalip brothers and sisters & thanks to all the organizers”.

Andrea gained her philanthropic experience through the First Nations Development Institute, than as the Director of Grants for Social Justice Fund Northwest, as a volunteer for the

Philanthropy Northwest Grantmakers of Color and as the founder for the Potlatch Fund. Here are her comments about the need for new funding for technology training programs.

“We need new sources of funding so any rural community, tribal or not can apply to get access to technology training. Technology is changing so rapidly and a native led effort will ensure we can keep up. We are developing the Tribal Technology Training Program or T3 to educate people at the grass roots level with tech skills that will support their educational and employment potential. One of the main outcomes I’d like to see is direct financial support for T3 initiatives. The technology training needs to happen now.”

Andrea Alexander and her husband Mike, a Haida tribal member, along with their 13 year old daughter, Antonia, reside in the Seattle area.

For further information contact Andrea Alexander, aalexander795@gmail.com.

I’m pleased to introduce guest author Sara Sandford, Chair of Garvey Schubert Barer’s Pacific Rim Initiative and Japan Practice, and co-chair of the China Practice. Sara works with clients from around the world in all stages of establishing, acquiring and operating businesses across borders. We’re grateful that Sara has offered to share her experience and knowledge with our readers. Thanks Sara! – Lael 

International Trade and Investment

Companies from abroad come to the United States all the time looking for raw materials, investment opportunities and markets for their products.  Likewise, U.S. companies look abroad for a broad array of reasons:  low cost manufacturing, customers, investors, technology and business partners, to name just a few.

Almost all businesses, on reflection, have some aspect of their enterprises that touch a foreign jurisdiction, but a lot of lessons are learned the hard way about the added challenges of conducting business abroad. Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Find the right business counterparts. 

Here’s a link to a list of things you might want to do to evaluate a potential business counterpart abroad.

Tip #2: Carefully evaluate the type of business structure you want to pursue and the associated risks and challenges.

The easiest type of transaction is a straight “spot” transaction, where the buyer just buys some goods from abroad one time, to test the reliability and quality of a particular business counterpart and product.  Even in such an instance, the buyer has risk if payment is due in advance and the goods turn out to be shoddy.  The buyer may not get its money back and it may be too expensive even to return the goods.   Laws and methods have therefore been devised to allow payment after inspection. This includes, for example, stand by and direct letters of credit.

The more deeply a business enterprise pursues business overseas, the greater the risk and the more planning up front is advised.   More complex approaches could include licensing, hiring an agent or a distributor, entering into a joint venture, buying a company or forming a wholly owned subsidiary.  Whichever approach is taken, challenges and risks still exist.

Tip #3: Use planning and care to significantly reduce risks and manage added challenges.

Likewise, a foreign company coming into the U.S. may be looking for different things and will be facing similar risks.  That means risk to the U.S. business counterparts too.  For example, if a foreign company buys goods, the U.S. seller may not get paid if the buyer doesn’t like the product in the end and the seller hasn’t arranged for payment up front.  That may happen if both seller and buyer are in the same city, but it’s a lot easier to collect across town than it is across the globe.

Even if a foreign company comes to the U.S. to invest, or is invited to invest by a U.S. company that pursued financing overseas,  there is increased risk to the company receiving the investment.  Making sure the investor has shared expectations can be more difficult cross culturally.  Often an investor’s rights and remedies are different abroad and a foreign investor may feel deceived if these differences aren’t highlighted at the outset.  A local company may not realize what those differences and expectations are and may therefore disappoint without even knowing it!  Good planning and communication always help.

Tip #4: Know what your counterparts want; there are lots of reasons for cross border business – including immigrant status.

As mentioned above, investors have a variety of reasons for pursuing cross border business. They can be looking for a market, an investment opportunity, funding, supplies, know-how, or looking for some combination of the above.  Another thing that some investors seek is a “green card” for themselves and qualifying family members.  If an investor is prepared to invest at least $1 million (or $500,000 in the right circumstances) and it will result in the employment of at least 10 U.S. workers, for example, an investor may qualify.  The investor must be engaged in the management of the U.S. business, either through the exercise of day-to-day managerial control or through policy formulation.

Many investors have focused on Regional Center filings for a number of reasons.   Many are in Targeted Employment Areas in which an investment of as little as $500,000 is required.
The employment requirement can include “indirect” employment.  Moreover, only minimal management is required.

For more information, click here.

If a U.S. company is looking for investment from someone overseas it is good to know about this potential strategy.  There are others as well, but this one has been in the press a lot lately, because it doesn’t require the same type of involvement by the investor.  If you know what your business counterpart wants, you can often work with advisors to craft a cross-border business strategy that is winning for all concerned.

For more information, please contact Gregg Rodgers and Sara Sandford with questions.

Check out this article on the work that Navajo Nation is doing to bring wireless broadband to the reservation.  Navajo Nation is not alone – many tribes and partners like GCI and its Rural Development Program led by Bob Walsh in Alaska are taking advantage of the federal funding opportunities for these projects. In fact, there will be $100 million available for tribes in 2015 under the Tribal Mobility Fund.  Applications are due this year.  Economic development on reservations and in rural areas cannot happen without this type of infrastructure.  And more importantly, high quality education cannot happen on the reservation without access to the internet.  In fact, President Obama has made high speed internet a priority and created an initiative to bring it to all schools, including tribal schools, in the next five years.  

Garvey Schubert Barer has been a proud partner with Tribes on these types of projects for many years.  Much more work needs to happen to close the divide. But if we continue to take advantage of funding opportunities available, develop key partnerships, we will close this “digital divide”.

See article below on narrowing the digital divide in the Navajo Nation.

Happy New Year!

How Terrestrial Broadband is Forever Changing Telecommunications in the Arctic

Narrowing the Digital Divide in the Navajo Nation

Posted by Jean Rice on January 08, 2014 at 12:28 PM EST

Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Spread across the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, the Navajo Nation is home to up to 175,000 members of the Navajo Tribe. Tribal members live scattered across more than 27,000 square miles of land stretching from northeast Arizona to northwest New Mexico to southeast Utah.

It’s a place where many roads have never been paved, many buildings don’t have a formal postal address and thousands of families remain cut off from the electrical grid. At least 60 percent of homes don’t have landline telephone service even though wireless signals are often spotty or nonexistent. The 911 system often cannot track where people are calling from during an emergency. And high-speed Internet access has been almost entirely unavailable.

Data from the National Broadband Map, which is maintained by NTIA in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission, show that less than 4 percent of the population living in Navajo Nation territory has access to even the most basic wireline broadband speeds of 3 megabits per second downstream.

But with a $32 million grant from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is bringing a modern wireless communications system to a region that has been all too frequently bypassed by amenities that most Americans take for granted. Click here to read full article…

While attending the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association Conference and Trade Show at the gorgeous  Shakopee Mystic Lake Casino Resort, someone reminded me that its only by understanding our past that we can truly move forward.  Tribes are at a crossroads.  Gaming, which was once a monopoly, is fast becoming the next big tax revenue generator for states and tribes are losing their monopoly.  The question facing Indian Country is how do we provide economic development for our communities outside of gaming?

Tribes have always been on the cutting edge of innovation in economic development in areas with the least opportunity.  We know that diversification is the answer, but of the plethora of options available, where are the true opportunities?

1.  Renewable Energy.  Many tribes have land available that can be used for energy projects.  Often this land may not be attractive to other types of economic development which is why an energy project might be a perfect fit.

In addition to providing renewable forms of energy, in some rural locations reliant on gas to produce electricity, these projects can provide a tangible benefit to tribal members.  For example, wind turbines installed in remote Alaska Native villages decrease the reliance on pollution heavy and very expensive diesel generators used throughout rural Alaska.

Solar energy projects in the Southwest can provide power to tribal member homes and tribal government buildings.  Because solar power does not have to be plugged into the grid, there is more flexibility in use.  Water, bio fuel development, and bio mass projects are all feasible projects for tribes located across the United States.  The Quinault Tribe in Washington State is utilizing the “slash” created in the timber industry to create pellets that can heat large tribal government buildings with less emission than the controlled burns that used to dispose of the “slash.”  The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi is going to construct a landfill gas-to-energy project to power its casino.  While these projects may not have the same immediate monetary payoff as we are accustomed to with gaming, the long term potential is huge.

2.  Government Contracting.  This is a no-brainer.  The United States Government is the biggest purchaser of goods and services in the country.  You name it, the Federal government probably buys it. The Small Business Agency has programs specifically designed for tribes to participate in government contracting. Because the 8a program is not limited to businesses located in Indian Country, tribes located in areas unsuitable for major economic development can explore opportunities off the reservation.

For example, a tribal 8a company owns and operates a hotel in Afghanistan used by the Department of Defense.  The U.S. AID program that provides assistance to developing countries has given contracts out to contractors for assistance in developing indigenous justice system in those countries!  A current contracting opportunity is for water infrastructures in the West Bank and Gaza.  Who better to assist with these types of contracts than tribes who have the actual experience building tribal governance systems and infrastructure in rural areas?  The key is to have good staff support accustomed to managing a government contract.  From pencil erasers to IT, the opportunities are endless.

3.    Expand Tourism.  I know, no one wants to be a show pony to busloads of tourists asking to take pictures with “real Indians in their costumes.”  But, there is a way to tell our tribal story in a culturally appropriate way while offering superb hospitality services to those visitors.  Tribes offer a unique and often forgotten perspective on the history of the United States that can be turned into an economic development opportunity for our communities.  The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association is dedicated to growing tourism that “honors and sustains tribal traditions and values.”

Culturally appropriate and mind-blowing design aesthetics such as those seen at the Tulalip Resort Casino located outside Seattle, Washington, can create an experience that is not only enlightening but welcoming.  Recently, an Alaska village corporation, Huna Totem Corp, opened a tourism consulting business designed to assist Native communities in the U.S. and worldwide with developing tourism opportunities around their own cultures. Using those things that belong to us and come very naturally to indigenous communities, such as hospitality to guests and sharing our stories, can also be used to provide income to support our communities.

4.  Healthcare.  With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there will be opportunities for tribes to participate in the economic growth associated with the expansion of health care coverage.  Beyond expansion of services provided at tribal health clinics, there is an opportunity to invest in those suppliers who support health care providers such as software development, light manufacturing for the supplies needed by clinics and hospitals, food, laundry, personnel, and construction.  The expertise gained by operating tribal clinics can be used to make strategic decisions on what types of supporting businesses might be needed and best practices for operating those businesses.  By investing in an industry that tribes are already familiar with can ensure long term success.

These are just a few options, but options I personally have seen be successful for those tribes using them.  For many tribes, gaming has been a catalyst for tribal government growth and development, but we cannot stay stagnant.  Diversification is key to the continued success of all Native people in the United States and abroad.  Strategic investments and partnerships will assist tribes as they develop a diversified economic base.  In the midst of dealing with the cutbacks caused by sequestration, the federal shutdown is hitting our communities hard. We need to decrease reliance on government funding while increasing our own ability to care for our communities.

If we look to our past, we see many examples of tribes stepping outside of the proverbial box in order to provide for our communities.  Strength of character, knowledge of our history, and the ability to take a step outside of what is familiar is our legacy and will continue to drive Native innovation in economic development.