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Native American Business

Updated on December 27, 2012
Native American tribes are doing more business as their economic development efforts are beginning to expand.
Native American tribes are doing more business as their economic development efforts are beginning to expand.

Native American Business

In the most recent decades Native American business has grown tremendously. Indeed, within pre-colonial times Native Americans had a thriving economy among each other. Some of these trade routes are still in evidence even today. However, with forced removal from tribal lands and coerced boarding schools, much of that business culture was lost. Recently with tribal gaming and government contracting tribes have made a return to economic concerns.

Tribal Gaming

Decades ago tribes started learning that businesses on tribal lands were not subject to state laws. So, what was legal on the federal level could be legal on tribal lands. Court cases made this possible. A prolific initial use was cigarette sales, where the tribe charged a lower tax rate than the surrounding state's tax rate. Another business was high stakes bingo. Many states allowed bingo but had a limit on what the jackpots could be, tribes could have much higher jackpots. These bingo halls had pull-tabs which are a lot like lottery scratch-offs. What this led to was electronic forms of bingo and pulltabs which came to be very similar to slot machines.

So, it was short jump to full blown casinos. Politics forced federal oversight to be established and many tribes elected (for good political reasons) to establish a relationship with the state by providing a portion of revenues to the state. The casinos are a strong economic arm of the areas they serve as an employer and as an purchaser. The casinos do lot of purchasing to operate their casinos. As a Native American business casinos are the largest generator of profits a tribe can establish.

Federal Government

Tribes have also elected to start participating in the federal government procurement game. Utilizing government set-aside programs some tribes have had tremendous success with securing government contracting in all manner of areas. Native American businesses have been established for logistics, data entry and document imaging, military manufacturing, and construction.

The most successful of these have been the Alaska Native Corporations (ANC's). The ANC's utilizing SBA minority 8(a) status, so called Super 8(a), have secured huge contracts for the government. Some of these even generate a billion dollars a year in revenues. But some of the smaller tribally owned small business concerns pursue smaller government contract. A worthwhile endeavor as the US government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world.

Local Business

Tribes have also been looking to diversify their economic development efforts. Many have turned to standard local small businesses. A favorite has been travel plazas or convenience stores, which have established nationwide. Another rising trend is banks, tribes are purchasing (a few have establish) banks. Tribes like the Chickasaw and Citizen Potawatomi have banks. While federal banking laws disallow tribes from lending to themselves, they do serve Native Americans with products like the Section 184 Loan Guarantee Program. This is a mortgage loan guarantee program for Natives (getting mortgages on tribal lands is difficult).

Still, whatever endeavor the tribes get into locally they are not trying to serve only the Native American population, but all people. Serving the masses in a local small business is the way to profits.

Agriculture is a favorite economic endeavor also. There is much being done in farming and ranching, with many tribes opting to raise exotic products like buffalo. Being unable to compete large agricultural businesses, they choose smaller niches that have high profit margins.

Native Business Thoughts

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    • xriotdotbiz profile image

      xriotdotbiz 6 years ago


      Google the casino's tribe. Many tribal web sites have information for the purchasing department. Otherwise, visit the casino and ask for purchasing, good old cold calling. Finally, start attending area chamber meetings, especially minority chambers of commerce's. Many times someone from the casino will attend and be able to route you to the buyers.

    • profile image

      Jerome Jassenoff 7 years ago

      As a manufaturer's representative having products for sale who , who and where can I go to see the pruchasing departments for the Florida Casinos RSVP Thank You

    • GNelson profile image

      GNelson 7 years ago from Florida

      Your picture reminds me I have to get back to Santa Fe. My wife loves turquoise and silver. The craftmen there are special.