Making the best of tough economic times
Elouise Cobell to headline 26th annual NAFOA conference
CHICAGO - The Native American Finance Officers Association is set to kick off its annual meeting in the Windy City Sept. 3 and 4.
;'This conference is important for a number of reasons,'' said Bill Lomax, president of NAFOA. ''The obvious one centers on the effect this economy is having on tribes right now.''
Lomax will lead a discussion titled ''The State of Native American Finance,'' in which participants will assess the elements of doing business in recessionary times, while exploring alternative approaches to help tribes and their business enterprises navigate the waters. The effects of high gasoline costs on tribes and members, and the fact that some casino operations are suffering as a result, will be addressed.
Lomax also expects many tribal leaders to talk about difficulties with refinancing issues in the current economic climate. Many tribes have overextended themselves in an attempt to build enterprises, but now find themselves without the profits they expected to take care of their debts.
''A lot of tribes have gone into a significant amount of debt compared to past years,'' Lomax said. ''You've got almost the perfect storm for a lot of tribes - debt, overexpansion and a slow economy.''
Other topics planned to be covered include tribal investment strategies, technological advances, per capita payments, tribal infrastructure, financial literacy, real estate investing, entrepreneurship, retirement, and gaming issues.
Headlining the event will be Elouise Cobell, who will deliver a keynote speech to discuss her concerns with the recent outcome of her case against the government involving Individual Indian Money accounts.
NAFOA, a nonprofit association that aims to build the financial strength of tribal governments, has expressed special concern about the outcome of the Cobell v. Kempthorne case, which awarded American Indian plaintiffs $455 million, less than 1 percent of the $47 billion they were seeking.
The goal of the case was to end what plaintiffs called 120 years of government mismanagement by forcing the government to provide a complete accounting of all individual Indian monies and force them to return funds rightfully owed to Native people with interest legally due.
Lomax said he was ''shocked'' by the decision made by U.S. District Judge James Robertson Aug. 7.
''It's unbelievable to me that the judge made the decision he did,'' he said, adding that he believes the decision undermines the U.S. trust relationship with tribes by ruling that trust law does not apply to the federal government when it comes to Indian people, as it does for any other person in this country.
He also believes the decision means ''normal equitable principles don't apply if you are a Native American'' and called the ruling ''a continuation of the legacy of broken promises and injustice that Indian people have faced for far too long.''
NAFOA officials believe that all tribes are affected by the Cobell decision, and that tribal leaders should support an appeal - however expensive it may turn out to be.
Lomax suggested that tribes and individuals make donations to support an appeal by the Native plaintiffs, and that lobbyist groups express support of the issue through media outlets and by taking political steps to inform Congress of the importance of this issue.
Beyond the doom and gloom of the current tribal economic climate and the Cobell decision, Lomax said he's excited to meet with tribal finance leaders at the 26th annual NAFOA conference. He believes many will have best practice models to share and that this will be a good time for attendees to think about keeping tribal costs under control.
For more information, visit http://nafoa.org.