Tribal Casino Managers: As you know, fueled by a stable $26 billion in annual gross gaming revenues, tribal governmental gaming operations wield hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian purchasing power. You wield the tribes’ enormous purchasing power. You hold the purse strings.
Before tribes might pass Tribal Buy Indian Acts that mandate their casinos’ procurement of Indian goods and services, Indian Country needs your help. We need you to dedicate tribal casinos’ purchasing power to Indian goods and services, not because you have to but because “it’s the right thing to do.” Buying Indian really is the right thing to do, for Indian Country.
As the post, Calling All Tribal Leaders! explains, Buy Indian is critical to the development of a tribal small business sector. It is important for you to understand the reality of not having Native family-owned businesses flourishing on the reservation you are helping improve through the tribe’s gaming enterprise.
Without a reservation private sector:
- Indian job opportunity is lost. The “Indian brain drain” – the drain of tribal talent from the reservation – will continue.
- Reinvestment in tribal businesses and homes, and the modernization of reservation infrastructure, does not happen at acceptable levels, if at all. As a casino manager, you of course want there to be aesthetically pleasing roads, sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping and parking lots, as well as other businesses, surrounding the gaming enterprise.
- Opportunities to diversify tribal economies away from cigarettes, fireworks and gaming, towards more sustainable industries, and for tribes to tax Indian business activities to enhance governmental programs and services, do not flourish.
- Tribal quality of life – for example, not having to drive hours to go shopping – cannot improve.
- Indian sovereignty and self-determination is not fully realized.
With the goals of a vibrant private sector and in turn a better way of reservation life in mind, Indian Country needs your help buying Indian. The tribal community you serve needs you to focus the tribe’s procurement power on Indian goods and services, which are increasingly available to your casino. To give you a few examples: Sister Sky, a business owned by two Spokane sisters, manufacturers hygiene products made from traditional Indian botanicals, which they sell at shopping malls and to hotels and spas. Yakama Juice, America’s first Native-owned juice plant, produces organic juices that are fine enough for Costco to sell wholesale, as well as purified water and sports drinks. Caddo Solutions, a Caddo Indian-owned enterprise out of Denver, provides a wide variety of office services and supplies to businesses all over the country.
Unfortunately, at virtually every Indian casino, hotel or resort in America, the bathroom products are still furnished by the likes of Sysco, not Sister Sky; the beverages are provided by Coke or Pepsi, not Yakama Juice; and the office supplies are purchased from Costco or Office Max. Indian Country needs your help to change that reality.
That said, does buying Indian come without any challenges? No. Might Indian goods and services, as with those of any other local business competing with national or multi-national companies, come at a higher price? Sure. Could Native family-run businesses need a little bit of help from you to get integrated into your casino’s sophisticated way of procurement and doing business? Maybe. Yet should any excuses be made for tribal small businesses that do not provide you service at the level you expect from Corporate American? Absolutely not. Buying and selling Indian will most certainly take effort, patience and resolve from everyone involved.
Like my grandfather always preached to me: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Indian Country needs you, as stewards of tribal economic resources, to instill in your mind and heart, the will to buy Indian. With your and your management team’s will to buy Indian, there is a way towards equipping your casino with the Native goods and services you need to succeed – and Indian Country with the hope it needs for the future.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via galandabroadman.com.