HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveVolume 19Issue 26Expert Panel Discusses Developing Tribal Relationships with Surrounding Communities

On Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at the 2013 Global Gaming Expo (“G2E”), a panel of tribal gaming experts discussed the importance of developing strong relationships between Native American tribes and state and local units of government. During this session, each panelist described successful strategies for creating such partnerships, as well as the various benefits that Native American governments can experience from strengthening these relationships.

The panel was moderated by Ms. Kari McCormick, Director of Client Services-Native American Division for Kitchell Contractors. Panelists included Mr. Tom Linton, Council Member for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians; Alfonso Rodriguez, Director of Community and Economic Development for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation; and Mr. Jamie Stuck, Tribal Council Vice Chair for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi.

After introductions by Ms. McCormick, Mr. Linton began the discussion with an overview of the Morongo Band’s current economic development efforts and the role that local and state bodies play in these efforts. He noted that the tribe has a large presence in the local community, as it is the largest employer in the area. The tribe’s business ventures include a travel center, Ruby’s Diner, a golf club, an In-N-Out Burger, in addition to other ongoing projects. He noted that tribal sovereign immunity is the most important factor when navigating relationships between state and local government partners and that the tribe’s participation in several local governing boards do not require the waiver of such immunity.

One particular example of government-to-government cooperation cited by Mr. Linton related to a 20-mile bypass road constructed across tribal lands. He noted that the tribe worked closely with local and county governments to plan the road so that tribal members had direct access to alternate transportation routes and that the road was placed so as to maximize the benefit to tribal members.

Mr. Rodriguez followed, stating that it is important to remember that, for tribes, economic development means the successful operation of businesses. He noted that the goals of tribal governments differ in this area from state or local governments, as tribal governments directly operate businesses in addition to creating a favorable governmental environment for those businesses to operate. As such, it is important for tribes to focus on driving business and community growth in addition to its traditional government functions.

Mr. Stuck then provided a description of how the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi integrates itself and its members in local and state affairs by participating in various community groups and government boards. Importantly, Mr. Stuck emphasized that participation in community efforts in surrounding communities is often more about creating lasting relationships and a mutual understanding of community issues beyond merely monetary distributions from local revenue sharing boards. Further, Mr. Stuck noted a federal substance abuse prevention program in which the Nottawaseppi Huron Band partnered with other Potawatomi tribes in the area, noting that it is also important to work closely with other Native American tribes and groups to advance common goals.

As an example of the benefits of local government relationships, Mr. Stuck discussed a situation in which a county water line had to be moved on incredibly short notice on tribal land, a process that normally takes several weeks. Because of the tribe’s close relationship with the county, the tribe was able to directly contact the county, explain the immediate need, and the county expedited the process to provide assistance to the tribe within a matter of days. Finally, Mr. Stuck noted that the tribe’s participation on state and local boards helps to ensure that tribal issues are considered and addressed by state officials, as well as to develop beneficial relationships between governments.

The discussion ended with questions from the audience that noted continued struggles to develop relationships in a sometimes hostile atmosphere. Mr. Stuck responded by noting that these relationships sometimes take a long time to develop and that it is important to educate members of local and state governments on the importance of tribal sovereignty and the role that it plays in tribal development.


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