IGNACIO – Sovereignty, effective government services and wise long-term priorities are all keys to economic success for Native American tribes, an expert told the crowd at the Indian Biz Expo Four Corners.
“It’s what we call nation building,” said Eric Henson, a fellow at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, on Thursday.
Research through the Harvard project has shown tribes succeed when governance matches cultural views of a community, and the tribes can provide government services, such as transportation and sanitation, he said.
While difficult for many tribes, levying taxes is often an important piece of being able to provide services, he said.
A mix of large businesses and smaller, tribal member-owned businesses is also key. One way to support a mix of businesses is to encourage commerce among them, he said.
“There is quite a bit of buying power in Indian country,” Henson said.
The expo was organized by the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. It attracted about 130 people to workshops and a business networking session, said Shadana Sultan, executive director of the chamber.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is a model of economic success, and it’s important for others to see what the tribe has done well, Sultan said.
Sultan’s organization also wants to work with the tribe to help continue its economic success, she said.
“You always want to make sure that you are putting in the work to continue to fill those pipelines – with getting those students in the education pipeline and encouraging them to open up businesses,” she said.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is one of the largest employers in the county. It took bold steps to invest in business ventures off the reservation in the late 1990s and early 2000s because the leadership realized that oil and gas investments were going to decline, said Growth Fund Operating Director Pat Vaughn at an economic roundtable last week.
Since then, the tribe has invested in real estate and private equity, which Vaughn oversees. The non-energy holdings have a combined market value in excess of $1.1 billion, according to the tribe’s website.
The tribe is also interested in more business partnerships, said Eric Thayer, the Growth Fund’s director of strategic planning.
“The tribe is interested in being a true partner in the region and developing economic capabilities and capacities,” he said.