I clicked on Indian Country Today, well, today, and saw that the lead story was on Don Chapman, a member of the Mohegan Tribe and the senior advisor on Native American affairs to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Today's installment of the Tribe In The Media is this story:
My business is your business
Conference spotlights ins and outs of Indian entrepreneurship
By Rob Capriccioso
September 8, 2010
WASHINGTON – If the MEDweek minority business conference had a slogan, it might well be “my business is your business” – for the Indian and non-Indian participants.
The conference, hosted by an office of the Department of Commerce the week of Aug. 23, is an annual event catering to minority business owners nationwide. The goal has long been to gather them to support their needs, help them network, and hopefully to strengthen their economic endeavors. Since the federal government often funds a substantial chunk of minority projects, it’s seen as a wise investment.
Throughout the American business and government sectors, there’s long been plenty of lip service paid to getting Indian-owned businesses in on the minority business action, but this year’s gathering, held in downtown Washington at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, went beyond the words.
Attendees said the event offered meaningful engagement with Indian businesses and showcased unique opportunities for interaction with them.
Native speakers and information was presented throughout the five-day conference, and an entire track with unique discussions and panels was devoted to Indian topics, like special bonding issues and unique challenges to partnering with reservation-based projects.
One of the key organizers of the Indian-themed components was Don Chapman, the Mohegan senior advisor on Native American affairs for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. In that capacity, he is responsible for leading the Office of Native American Affairs and for coordinating tribal consultation policy and Native American economic development issues. The position, which he entered last fall, is new in the agency.
Chapman said this year’s Minority Business Development Agency conference featured the greatest Indian country participation in the history of the event.
“One of my first initiatives after arriving here at Commerce back in October 2009 was to more closely integrate MBDA with NCAIED (the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development) and establish a closer collaboration between the two entities on behalf of tribally-owned and individually-owned Native American businesses. The two have parallel missions, goals and objectives.”
Increased Native inclusion is important, Chapman said, because a great deal of non-Native businesses do not understand the unique federal contracting status of Native-owned companies and many times are unaware of the level of sophistication and bandwidth that Native firms have today.
“MEDWeek 2010 really provided significant insight to many minority-owned businesses to not only get a better understanding of Native business capabilities, but to also meet and strategize potential areas of business, collaboration, and potential mutual customers together,” Chapman said.
Continuing the good will between Commerce and the National Center, Margo Gray-Proctor, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors, said a $100 discount would be offered to business leaders who attended MEDWeek and go on to attend the 2011 Reservation Economic Summit. The annual gathering features a large audience of Indian business networkers.
“We need incentives for us all to get together. When we help each other, we help us all,” Gray-Proctor said, calling her offer “the chairwoman’s special.”
The goal for the next RES is to expand the number of attendees from 2,700 this year to 5,000 in 2011, said Eric Trevan, NCAIED president and CEO.
Kent Paul, CEO of the AMERIND risk management organization, gave a real world example of a new program being planned to strengthen minority relations. He said his organization is “on the cusp” of launching an alternative bonding program that can better meet some of the needs of minority businesspeople who want to work with Indian country. He estimated that the new program would launch within the next nine months.
Others spent a great deal of time discussing ways for companies to leverage their contracting opportunities with tribes and Indian businesses.
One point many Indian attendees hammered home was that there are many partnership opportunities to be made with tribes, but cultural respect is crucial for success.
“You might not have to worry about so many cultural issues when doing business with other entities,” said Gray-Proctor, during one of the event’s sessions. “But each tribe has its own unique sovereign nation structure that will help determine how you should interact.”
She offered an example of a time she was in a meeting with a matriarchal tribe where presenters were only addressing a male tribal staffer. The female leaders ended up doing business
with someone else.
“They didn’t know their culture, so it cost them.”
Heather Dawn Thompson, a partner with the Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal law firm and a panelist at the event, explained the situation another way: “Imagine you are traveling to a foreign country when working with Indian country, and your relationships will go more smoothly. … It’s a very different community to break into.”
She noted that Indian country in general tends to be mistrustful of working with outsiders given the many times tribes and Native individuals have been abused.
Trevan said he didn’t want any non-Indian businesspeople to leave the conference with the idea that Indian country is closed to relationship-building, it’s just in a unique situation, given that tribes are governments, so special rules exist in many cases.
“Indian country is definitely open for business. Now let’s make it happen.”
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