Utilizing Cultural Exchange to Grow Sustainable Tribal Economies

Informaton about the Three Fires tribes was taught at at the 37th Annual Michigan Minority Procurement Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange (MMPC) in Detroit.

Commentary

Published June 9, 2018

 In May, representatives from Michigan tribes participated on a panel at the 37th Annual Michigan Minority Procurement Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange (MMPC) in Detroit. This conference is intended to be the state’s premier business conference that focuses on connecting national and local corporations with top minority business enterprises (MBE) in Michigan. More than 400 exhibitors were on hand so that businesses could network and exchange business opportunities.

 Representing two Michigan tribal business economic development entities were Thomas J. St. Dennis, attorney, for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, who works closely with the tribe’s Economic Development Council and Troyland “Troy” Clay, president and CEO of Mno-Bmadsen, the Pokagon Potawatomi’s investment enterprise. Both tribal representatives touted the business enterprises of their tribes.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians operates a nutraceutical company and owns intellectual property relating to protein formulations for military and commercial applications. The tribe also is  building an upscale housing development that is separated from typical Indian housing.

Mno-Bmadsen is a progressive tribal enterprise that owns a manufacturing plant and an architectural design company that develops construction projects around the country.

Joining the panel was Stacey Tadgerson (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), director of the Office of Native American Affairs, Michigan Department of Human Services. Tadgerson provided an overview of cultural differences non-Natives may experience when working with American Indian business enterprises.

The panel was moderated by Andra Rush (Mohawk), who is founder, chair, and CEO of Rush Group of Companies, including Dakkota Integrated Systems, Detroit Manufacturing Systems, and Rush Trucking Corporation.

Levi Rickert

The breakout session room where the panel was held was full of people interested in working with American Indians. The amazing thing about the panel was it was the first time in MMPC’s history that featured a panel of American Indians sharing business opportunities. The good news is the panel was well received and there were comments made that there needs to be more exchange between American Indians and non-Native entities.

It is unimportant not to dwell on the issue of why it took 37 years to bring American Indians to the table. History always has its place. However, to get stuck on dealing with the past can contribute to further stagnation of progress. What is important is to figure out how to keep American Indians at the table, because as tribes in Michigan demonstrate they are working diligently to create sustainable businesses to properly prepare for the next seven generations.

To the point of cultural exchange, while interviewing Pilar Thomas, who is featured in this month’s TBJ cover story, she told me something I have been pondering. She said tribal leaders need to attend mainstream conferences to learn about next-generation technology, such as solar energy conferences. Just showing up at American Indian conferences where tribal officials are apt to run into the same people will not provide them with enough knowledge to equip them for the next generation.

In today’s economy reaching out to others—non-Natives—is essential to build sustainable tribal economies.

Levi Rickert is the editor of Tribal Business Journal. He also is the publisher and editor of Native News Online

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