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NIGA's New Mission, Part Two

Harold A. Monteau
4/5/11

(This is a follow-up to Harold Monteau's previous column, "New Mission for NIGA")

It’s time to put the Indian back in Indian Gaming.

While there has been some growth in Indian Majority-owned supply and service providers in Indian Gaming, Indian entrepreneurs continue to struggle to even get in the door of Indian Casinos. They continue to beg for start-up and expansion capital while watching more and more of the market go to non-Indian companies. They continue to bang on the doors of TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance) offices only to be told that the Casino is “exempt” from the reach of TERO.

Indian owned businesses continue to be told that they lost a bid by 3 cents; in some cases, they are not even told why they lost a bid, what the winning bid was or whether it went to an Indian majority owned company. When they ask “how does the preference work?” they are told “you get a chance to bid." Even the Federal Government will give a majority owned minority company a 5% preference over the next lowest bid. By not addressing the matter NIGA encourages huge non-Indian vendor companies to reap millions, and sends the tacit message that they need not worry about any obligation (legal or moral) to sub-contract with Indian companies. Why? Because the Tribes won’t enforce Buy Indian/Buy Native and Indian Preference on contractors or NIGA for that matter. Why? Because the non-Indian advisers and vendor company executives tell the Tribes that giving preference to Indian vendors will be more expensive.

Tribes and Tribal Casinos should not only invest in start-up and expansion of Native owned companies in the Indian Gaming Supply and Service Chain, but also in Indian majority owned companies. Also Tribes should require that their non-Indian companies comply with TERO and make them sub-contract to Indian companies and hire Indian people. This should apply to any contract for goods and services, including professional services. Some of the more isolated Tribes would even invest their scarce capital in sub-contracting entities in urban areas where there is a presence of a Native labor force and where some of the larger Indian Gaming service and supply companies are located.

Just that one step of enforcing tribal law would result in the creation of numerous locally owned Indian businesses. We who are watching are well aware of the problems that Indian Casinos have had with “front” organizations that purport to be Indian majority owned, only to be exposed as fronts for non-Indian Companies.

TEROs, if properly empowered, can ferret out the front companies by conducting audits of suspected fronts, tracing profits to the accounts of the Indian “owners” and determining if those profits are being simply transferred into non-Indian bank accounts. TERO, in conjunction with Gaming Commissions and Tribal Courts, can be empowered to subpoena any records it needs to investigate fraud and abuse. There are no valid excuses for not doing what is right.

What are some alternatives to the status quo? For a good start, make the non-Indian vendors of Indian Gaming abide by the Buy Indian/Buy Native Initiative. Help empower member Tribes to enforce Indian and Tribal Preference in contracting, hiring and purchasing. Coordinate these efforts from the ground up, not from the top down, by assisting each member tribe in developing and enforcing laws and policies that encourage and facilitate the creation of Tribal and Indian owned businesses to achieve vertical integration of the Indian Gaming Industry. Facilitate the partnership of non-Indian companies with Tribal Businesses and Indian-owned business (and even create them). There are so many tribes and Indians who are still on the outside looking in who can have a useful role in the industry as well as a useful role in advocating for and protecting Indian Gaming. But first, they need a stake in the industry, even if it’s just a little one.

Harold A. Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney who resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission in the Clinton administration. He can be reached at hamlaw@live.com.

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