Chronicle of James Williams Jr. on Native American tribes, culture


James Williams Jr.

It is sad nowadays that some people believe that Native American tribes are unable to meet the basic needs of their people. For decades, tribes have created businesses to serve their citizens and the public good. But it seems that when tribal businesses are successful, competitors and critics undermine them by claiming that Native American tribes could not have created a successful business on their own.

Those who oppose the idea that Native American tribes operate successful businesses that compete with non-tribal rivals sometimes use offensive terms to create the illusion of harmful behavior. One of the ugliest claims is that a tribe’s success occurs by “hiring” itself out from non-tribal members, who abuse it for evil ends.

The term “rent-a-tribe” grossly misrepresents the American Indians, their intellectual capacities and their business acumen.

The Amerindian tribes are sovereign; they have the inherent authority to govern themselves without outside interference. Sovereignty is recognized by federal and state governments through treaties, laws, decrees, and intergovernmental agreements, and confirmed by centuries of jurisprudence from the United States Supreme Court and lower courts.

As rulers, Native American tribes provide services to their citizens and communities through government-run agencies, just like any other government. But unlike their non-tribal counterparts, Native American governments often cannot raise enough tax revenue to fully fund essential government services needed to meet the needs of their tribal citizens. This is especially true for Native American tribes located in remote areas.

Instead of forcing citizens to pay for a bridge, a community building, or a meal program for hungry seniors, funding for tribes comes from their businesses. (Most Americans are familiar with tribal casinos, but are surprised to learn that tribes operate businesses in energy, government procurement, retail, hospitality, and fintech.)

The term “rent-a-tribe” originated in gambling, where the attacks began as soon as the tribes became a competitive threat to non-tribal casinos. Opponents have suggested that the tribal practice of hiring competent vendors to provide services related to casino operations amounted to “rental” sovereignty and undermined the tribal ownership of the business, although many Non-tribal entrepreneurs engage in identical outsourcing practices when starting a new business in a regulated industry.

Today, tribal gambling has arguably reached its economic peak in the Indian country. Many tribes cannot rely on casino revenues to meet the needs of their communities, which is why they have started to turn to the Internet. Online tribal loans are a key economic driver for Native American tribes, thanks to rapid technological innovations, the ability of consumers to do business with geographically isolated tribes via the Internet, and the competitive advantages of tribes.

When tribes make the common strategic decision to outsource call center services, direct mail or software development, opponents of fintech and government-to-consumer online lending accuse the tribes of so-called “rent” programs. -a-tribe ”. Echoing similar gambling attacks from 30 years ago, these reviews show continued ignorance of the rights of tribes as rulers.

For example, as President-elect of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior, I am responsible not only for the functioning of our tribal government, but also for the stewardship of our culture, land and land. way of life. Alongside our Tribal Council and with a strong dose of entrepreneurial passion, we operate businesses that create jobs for the region, strengthen our tribal economy, and fund important social and cultural programs.

We are the largest employer in our region. Over 40% of our tribe’s general fund is generated through our government-to-consumer lending activities, and the income generated from tribal loans improves cultural preservation efforts, housing, health care, law enforcement. law, elder care, education, and infrastructure in and around our secluded reserve in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We are not alone – dozens of tribes across America successfully operate government consumer loan businesses.

We understand that business is competitive, but it is wrong when criticism implies that we are not sophisticated or that we have been “sucked” into a business relationship. The suggestion that my tribal council and I (or the governing body of any tribe) put our sovereignty up for sale to the highest bidder is deeply offensive. Each of the 573 federally recognized Native American tribes has the freedom and authority to engage in legal business transactions (such as tribal loans).

In an age when America needs greater civility and honest speech, a term like “rent-a-tribe” should be retired for good. This term is a shameful relic of the past. The pursuit of Native American tribes to operate businesses to generate income and ensure their self-sufficiency and self-determination is to be applauded, not vilified or belittled.

James Williams Jr. is the long-time president of the Old Lake Chippewa Indian Band of Lake Superior, a small tribal community located on the western end of Michigan’s upper peninsula. Contact him at: [email protected]


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