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Over the week of October 6th, Native Americans from across the United States were in Milwaukee for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s Regional Reservation Economic Summit, or RES Wisconsin. Though our annual National RES event has been a mainstay in Las Vegas for nearly 30 years, this is the first time a Regional RES event has been hosted in Wisconsin, bringing the nation’s leading Native American business event to the Great Lakes Region.

RES events create a collaborative, networking environment for participants through informative sessions, a trade show, and, new to RES, a Listening Session with top staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. RES Wisconsin is truly sustaining economic momentum and creating opportunity for business people across Indian country.

Wisconsin is an especially strong location for RES. The state’s Native heritage is felt today through its 11 federally-recognized tribes, as well as the names of cities and rivers that pay homage to Wisconsin’s first peoples. Appropriately, RES Wisconsin is taking place at the beautiful Potawatomi Hotel and Casino.

While the most visible signs of Indian business are often casinos like the Potawatomi’s, the diversity of American Indian economic development will be on display at RES Wisconsin. In fact, next to the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, the tribe has built a bio-digester to recycle food waste into renewable biogas. The energy produced by the bio-digester will be sold back to Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corporation and offset most of the Potawatomi Community’s energy costs throughout the state; an innovative approach that prioritizes sustainable energy.

Innovation in Indian country is not limited to energy. At RES Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin presented a panel on the free trade zone that it established to maximize benefits from its access to key transportation centers. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma attended to showcase a sustainable Agriculture Program it has developed and intends on sharing with other tribes to create “sovereign to sovereign” business opportunities within Indian country. Other sessions covered a wide range of topics, including energy, tourism, contracting, information technology, telecom, small business, and philanthropy.

Across the United States, tribes and tribal entities are working to create economic sustainability for their communities. Policy makers in Washington, D.C. must play an important role in these efforts.

On Thursday, October 9th, the Committee on Indian Affairs heard from conference attendees about how the federal government can be a better partner with Indian country, including fully implementing the Buy Indian Act to ensure Native American-owned businesses are being utilized by the federal government, encouraging Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to better serve Native American communities, and elevating and strengthening the Office of Native American Affairs at the United States Department of Commerce.

The National Center continues to do its part to connect Native Americans with business opportunities. In March of 2015, we will launch our National Center Edge portal program, an unprecedented online business training, networking, procurement, employment, and resource ecosystem built to give Indian country an edge in business, career growth, and economic development. We are very excited what the Edge Portal will mean for Indian businesses and emerging entrepreneurs.

Through events like RES and programs like the Edge Portal, we are taking meaningful steps to ensure economic momentum is sustained and progress is made in bringing economic opportunity to all of Indian country. Enterprise development in our community will further evolve and grow from the energy and ideas of those talented, visionary entrepreneurs and leaders who were in Milwaukee for RES Wisconsin.

Gary Davis is President and CEO of The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. He is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

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