Buy Indian: Calling All Tribal Leaders!

Tribal Leaders: It is time for Indian Country to buy Indian – to buy Native goods and services – as a matter of Tribal law.  It is especially time for tribal casinos to buy Indian goods and services, under the banner of Tribal Buy Indian Acts.

The federal Buy Indian Act has required the Department of Interior to employ Indian labor and purchase “the products of Indian industry” since 1910.  But Buy Indian has been an unfunded federal mandate in the sense that the United States has never meaningfully funded Native goods and services.

In 2010, one hundred years after the passage of the federal Buy Indian Act, do we really need the United States to finally buy Indian?  Or, in the spirit of self-determination, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, etc., it is time for Indian Country to begin buying Indian?

Buy Indian is the linchpin to the tribal private sector that is virtually absent from Indian Country.  According to the Native Nations Institute’s Rebuilding Native Nations, “Small business activity has a tremendous psychological and emotional impact on reservation people, particularly reservation youth. When they see businesses sprouting up, they see hope for the future.” Yet without an Indian business sector, not only does our communities’ hope for economic prosperity languish, but money representing that chance of prosperity perennially flows off of the reservation, and into non-tribal communities.

Consider two suggestions for how to create a practice of buying Indian within your tribe and casino, with a view towards creating a vibrant tribal small business sector.  First, pass a Tribal Buy Indian Act.  Take the Hoopa Tribal Comprehensive Business Policy Code, which provides: “The Tribe recognizes that a strong Reservation economy must include both tribal and private sector development. It is the policy of the Tribal Council to promote both tribal and private sector development within the exterior boundaries of the Reservation and elsewhere within the jurisdiction of the Tribe.” Those most critical words, “it is the policy of the Tribal Council,” make Buy Indian the law of Hoopa.

What’s more: “It is the policy that Hoopa Tribal Governmental purchasing power generated by both tribal and other funds be used to support local businesses and that every effort be made by Tribal departments to purchase from local vendors and businesses. . . . [W]ritten documentation must be submitted along with a request for non-local purchases which explain why it is not feasible to make such purchase(s) locally.” Therein lies the much-needed tribal Buy Indian mandate, declared from atop the Hoopa Tribal Government, down to tribal and casino managers.  Your Council should likewise cause your tribal managers who wield your tribe’s purchasing power, to justify why the tribe cannot buy Indian; without that accountability, Buy Indian fails.

Second, create a reward system for your tribal managers, especially your casino managers, who have the ability to purchase Indian goods and services.  It is they who wield hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian purchasing power thanks to the $26 billion Indian gaming industry.  Financially and otherwise incentivize your management to buy Indian.  Set benchmarks for the procurement of goods and services from Indian-owned businesses; and as you do relative to your casino’s overall performance, reward tribal and casino management for meeting and exceeding those Buy Indian benchmarks.

To be clear, it should not be enough for your casino’s gift shop to buy and in turn sell Indian-made products.  The casino’s gaming enterprise should also procure Native goods and services, be they hospitality products, food and beverages, or professional services.  And the casino should do so as a matter of tribal law – a Tribal Buy Indian Act.

Having your Council make Buy Indian the law of your land, and create a related incentive program for your tribe’s purchasing agents, are two ways to get your tribal community to buy into buying Indian – and in turn realizing a vibrant reservation private sector.

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, or via