When I was in college I took a Native American Law and Policy class. One of our big projects was to research a local tribe. My group was given the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. I never really thought much about tribal economics until I learned about Ho-Chunk Inc. and how this Winnebago company helping create an economic infrastructure on the Winnebago Reservation.
Ho-Chunk Inc. was formed in 1995 to funnel the tribe’s investments away from gaming. It is a company that now has 18 subsidiaries that market products and services to a national and international market. Some of the subsidiaries products and services they provide include office furniture and equipment, communications and computer hardware, telecommunications, transportation, media, marketing and public relations. HCI has grown to more than 500 employees with operations in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Louisiana, Florida, Washington, D. C., Mexico and Iraq according to their Web site.
The reason why I bring up this company is because recently the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes received $33 million in a settlement from a 1979 federal lawsuit over alleged mismanagement of tribal trust funds and resources. Northern Arapaho tribal members were awarded $1,550 and Eastern Shoshone members received $3,500. The settlement was split equally between the two tribes. The Eastern Shoshone have fewer enrolled members than the Northern Arapahos and received more per individual.
According to the Wind River News, local businesses and banks reported a boom in purchases and bank account openings. Banks that were normally closed on weekends opened their doors specifically to cash settlement checks.
In this struggling economy, this settlement check was a blessing for local businesses outside the reservation lines. Tribal members bought expensive merchandise such as televisions, furniture and vehicles. But with 85 percent of the total settlement going to tribal members, and the remaining 15 percent going towards tribal government programs, most of the money awarded to the tribes was circulated in an economic infrastructure outside of the reservation. If one wants to buy groceries, household items, clothing and vehicles; you have to travel off the reservation.
Right now the Eastern Shoshone tribe has some enterprises that include the Shoshone Rose Casino, which is currently expanding their building to include a restaurant and more gaming space. The Northern Arapaho have three casinos including the Wind River Casino. In 2008, the Wind River Casino commissioned the independent study by GVA Marquette Advisors as a follow-up on a study conducted in 2001. The study found that the Wind River Casino has contributed 90 million to the local economy. Furthermore, as a result of the Wind River Casino, the total annual sales tax revenue added to Fremont County is $800,000 and the total annual sales tax revenue added to the state is $1, 600,000. This does not include the more than 500 jobs created.
The fact is, there is a great deal of money circulating on the reservation, we just have to find a way to channel it back onto the reservation.
Both tribes could see further payment from the ongoing litigation dealing with the mismanagement of tribal resources and trust funds by the Federal government. How great it would be to have this money remain inside of the reservation economy, but until then, future settlement checks will probably be spent in neighboring off-reservation towns and cities.