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Tribal Economic Development Summit Held at Red Lake - P2

"Diversifying the Regional Tribal Economy" was theme


Participants in a work session

Minnesota's three largest Indian tribes, Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake participated in it's regularly scheduled Economic Development Summit. Tribal leaders, business representatives, artists and economists convened at Seven Clans Casino and Event Center in Red Lake on Monday through Wednesday, September 21-23, 2015. The three tribes alternate as hosts every two years.

The 2015 Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Summit began at 9:00 a.m. each day after a continental breakfast served at 8. The day's work ended around 4 p.m. with evening activities each day except Wednesday. The theme of the Summit was "Diversifying the Regional Tribal Economy."

Monday, September 21 was a free pre-summit day that included morning and afternoon workshops on Artist Development and Asset Building. The evening's event was entitled "Opening Reception: Art on the Lake" from 5 to 7 p.m.

Native Artists Professional Development Training: On Tuesday and Wednesday running concurrently with the Summit, Jeremy Staab, (Santee Sioux) of the First Peoples Fund held sessions from 9 to 4. A set number of representatives were pre-selected from the three reservations to attend this closed session with the purpose of being trainers for their reservations. These newly trained trainers will provide future sessions of the Native Artists Professional Development Training in their communities, which includes how to price your art, market your art, create and art portfolio, and budgeting for your business. First Peoples Fund provided the training at no cost.

The Summit Sessions

But the meat of the Summit was Tuesday and Wednesday. Information booths and displays on education, small business development, building construction, communications and energy resources were erected in the hotel lobby. Outside, visitors mingled in the artists' trade show tent where traditional foods and crafts were displayed side-by-side with 21st century development staples and marketing strategies.

Registration administrators said the turnout, at approximately 225 registrants, is lower than it has been in previous years.

"Attendance could be higher, it should be higher," said Sam Strong, director of economic development and planning for Red Lake in an interview with the Pioneer. "The summit is held every two years to build long-term sustainable partnerships, and in turn strengthen the local economy. Keep our dollars local."

The goal of the 2015 summit was to enhance business opportunities and foster economic growth from which Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Tribal Nations will develop healthy and self-sufficient communities. Workshop subjects fell under three general headings, Tribal Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development. From 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday there was an Evening Trade Show and Reception followed by entertainment from 7 to 9:30.

The Artists Trade Show on Tuesday and Wednesday, which included authentic Native American art, was from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and was free and open to the public. All artists were invited to display and sell their arts and crafts as a vendor at the trade show.

Opening Ceremony – General Session Tent

Tuesday, September 22

Justin Beaulieu, Economic Development, and Constitutional Reform, acting as emcee for the opening general session noted that this was an excellent opportunity for participants to network as the summit brings together state, regional, and tribal entities.

After an invocation by Spiritual Advisor, Eugene Stillday, Beaulieu called for the posting of colors. To the drumbeat of the Young Kingbird Singers, Flag and Eagle Staff Carriers entered along with dancing Red Lake Royalty.

Beaulieu introduced Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr., who welcomed the crowd. Seki whose first language is Ojibwemowin, introduced himself, and thanked Stillday and others before switching, as is his manner, to his second language, English. Regarding the importance of community input and interaction, Seki said that we are shaping a path for our growth in the local, state, and national economy. "We are all in this together," he said.

Next Beaulieu introduced the Opening Keynote speaker.

Keynote Address: Joe Nayquonabe, Jr., Mille Lacs

Joseph Nayquonabe, Jr., Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, gave a keynote address entitled "Successes of a Corporate Model".

Nayquonabe serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Directors for Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (MLCV). MLCV analyzes new business opportunities and oversees the Band's existing businesses including: Grand Casinos; the Crowne Plaza, St. Paul; The Riverfront and Double Tree Hilton Hotels, St. Paul; the Embassy Suites, Oklahoma City; Eddy's Resort on Lake Mille Lacs; 2020 Brand Solutions in South St. Paul; and more. Nayquonabe has a Masters Degrees in both Business Administration and Tribal Administration and Governance.

Nayquonabe talked about how their system works. All the money they make is by diversifying and buying businesses. Those businesses are taxed at 100%, the money of which goes to their shareholders, the members in various forms. Mille Lacs has a single payer health system. He also pointed out that with constant assault on gaming, they are moving to non-gaming businesses.

"To be heavily job focused is wrong," said Nayquonabe. "Many tribes economic development adds up to being jobs programs, which makes no money, so then does not allow for buying and/or expanding business. We got into water for a while, which in hind site made no sense. Coke and Pepsi are the "bottlers" of the world, no one can compete with them let alone a little tribe in central Minnesota."

"When we think about new things, like wind energy, gas stations, small markets things, we ask ourselves, 'what are we good at?" said Nayquonabe. "We've got five million visitors at our casinos, we are good at visitor hospitality. What can we add to it? Hotels, convention centers, gift shops, etc.? But we petered out on that, now what? Hospitality, in the local area! We buy hotels in Oklahoma and St. Paul, but we also need to support the local economy."

"Community economic development is about jobs, and on that we only want to break at least even, said Nayquonabe. "But other areas, we want to make money. We call that capital development. An easy example is doing things that we were formally paying for. We paid good money for marketing, for giveaways. Why don't we buy one of those types of business? So now we have our own marketing firm, Sweet Grass Media."

On Capital Development Nayquonabe said, "you need a separation between tribal government and business. It's essential to take the politics out of it. The day-to-day stuff is what I'm talking about, but of course, the council is ultimately responsible. But if we are spending 5 million dollars, we just do it. If it's $55 million, then we go to the council."

"Think about what you can do, it's probably right underneath your nose," concluded Nayquonabe. "One size does not fit all, what path is yours? What are your criteria? Because gaming is in decline, if we are to be independent nations, we must do this. See more deals, and remember you are not alone, we are in this together, that's what this summit is about."


Workshops were held the remainder of the day. They included "Tools for Skill Development" with Karen Cary, Leech Lake Tribal College, retired. "We use to..." was a session of Historical Economic Stories with elder Eugene Stillday.

"Create a Destination" was the subject for Sonja Tanner. Tanner talked of specific steps to take on how to move tribal tourism forward as an economic development opportunity. In another room, there was a Panel on Food as an Economic Strategy. Members emphasized that focused development can lead to job creation, increased workforce skills, improved health and food sovereignty including restoring a buffalo economy on native lands.

Using Social Media to reach new audiences with Rani Bhattatcharyya U o M Extension and artist Wesley May effective spoke of online marketing to promote goods and services.

Other sessions were on "Opportunities in Health Care," "Art: an Economic & Community Development Strategy," "Bridge the Gap: Cultural Ed for Employers," and "Tools to Attract Industry" with Ryan Zemek of Headwaters Regional Development Corporation, (HRDC) Nate Mathews, Bemidji City Manager, and Kari Howe from the Minnesota Department of Economic Development (DEED).

Evening entertainment included Native Ladies of Comedy, Sonny Johnson, and Corey Madina.

Wednesday, September 23

Wednesday started off with conferees having the option of going on tours. There were tours to Waasabiik Ojibwemotaadiiwin (Ojibwe Immersion School), and/at Red Lake Nation College, A Food Sovereignty tour went to the Red Lake Fishery, Greenhouse, and Aquaponics Lab, and the Red Lake Economy tour visited gaming and local businesses.

Break out sessions included, "Planning and Funding for Housing," "How to Capture Government Sales, and "Child Care: Needed but is it feasible?" The session explored how childcare impacts the local economy and childcare business models.

During lunch there was a Short Presentation on Leech Lake Telecom, a wireless telecommunications company serving the Leech Lake Band, and how it was developed

Other breakout sessions were on establishing a "Tribal Utilities Commission," "Youth Entrepreneurship Models, and "Workforce Agility" with Dr. Patrick Welle, BSU and Mary Eaton, Idea Circle who explored public-private partnerships.

Closing Session

The Closing Keynote Address was by Barry Gish who presented "Get A Grip!" Gish is a certified EOS* Implementer and owner of Concenter Planning. He has been an advisor and facilitator to leadership teams in how to reduce frustrations, gain control, and get better results by mastering the Six Key Components of the EOS process. *EOS®, (the Entrepreneurial Operating System) is a complete set of simple concepts and practical tools that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs get what they want from their businesses. Gish, somewhat of a showman, at the end pulled an "Oprah" and had a free gift for everyone in the room, a brand new hard-cover book called "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business."

A song by Young Kingbird Singers and the flag retreat ended the 2015 Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Summit.


The two-day Economic Development Summit takes place every two years or biennially. The three Indian Nations decided that it might be helpful to work together for economic development. They then formed an Economic Development Commission with economic development and planning directors, and other experts, from all three tribes as members.

Dr. Patrick Welle explored public-private partnerships

The Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Commission was established on March 20, 2007 by the governing bodies of the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations. The purpose of the Commission is to serve as a liaison between the Leech Lake Reservation, the Red Lake Reservation, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Councils, and area partners, businesses and interested parties to develop cooperative economic development efforts and other mutually beneficial projects on behalf of the three Tribal Nations and the region, which shall be presented to the three respective Tribal governments for approval.

Our Vision

The Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Commission will collectively create a sustainable, diverse economy to ensure prosperity for the next seven generations.

Our Mission

The Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Commission will build cooperative initiatives that retain and grow our economic potential through the development of our resources and relationships.


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