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Archive for Monday, September 22, 2003

Economic diversity

American Indians deserve support as they seek to diversify their economic development efforts.

September 22, 2003

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It's great to see members of the American Indian community looking beyond casino gambling to secure their economic futures.

As noted in a story in Sunday's Journal-World, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that opened the door to tribally owned casinos has been a windfall for some American tribes, especially those that that operate casinos in more heavily populated areas. However, even those tribes are beginning to realize that casino gambling probably is only a temporary shot in the art for economic development.

First, the demand for casinos is limited. Although many casinos have been successful, as they multiply across the country, they are bound to saturate the market and surpass the demand. In some parts of the country, including Kansas, tribes also are tangling with state and local governments over new casino developments. For instance, efforts by the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma to set up shop in Wyandotte County, Kan., have met with opposition and created much bad feeling toward the tribe among Kansas City, Kan., residents.

At least some tribal leaders are considering ways to diversify their business interests to provide a more stable economic base for their members. In Kansas, a Lawrence woman currently is serving as president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, an organization that has only been in existence for a year.

It's a natural tie for Marilyn Bread, who is director of the Center for Tribal Entrepreneurial Studies at Haskell Indian National University. One of the goals of the Indian chamber is to help tribes examine other possibilities for economic development. Tribes with casinos, for instance, might consider expanding into the tourism business with resorts of golf courses.

Bread and the chamber also work with Indian entrepreneurs to obtain financing and to negotiate other, often complex, aspects of setting up a business. On a larger scale, the Indian chamber hopes to have an impact on legislation and government regulation to clear the way for new economic ventures by tribes and individuals.

"I think most of the tribal leadership in their collective wisdom have always known the days of gaming revenue were short-lived," Bread told the Journal-World. "We always have hoped it would open other doors to economic development."

Opening those doors is the key to improving the economic status of American Indians, particularly those living on federal reservations. Encouraging ventures that make tribes more financially independent is a positive step for both Indians and non-Indians. As tribal leaders seem to recognize, casino gambling should be viewed as a means to an end, not as a long-term, economic strategy for American Indian tribes.

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