Buy Indian: The American Indian Business Network

The American Indian Business Network (AIBN) began as an initiative of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). The AIBN was envisioned to promote a “Buy Indian” concept and create consideration of Indian products and services by tribal casinos and other businesses that were involved in Indian country. As the AIBN evolved, the purpose of the overall initiative has expanded to promote economic activity and create opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs and business owners, corporations, and tribally owned businesses to participate in the growth of a thriving Indian economy.

So many of our Indian people have high-quality products to offer our Indian gaming industry, and many of our Native American businesses are working hard to maintain as business owners during the economic hard times. NIGA believes it is important to continue to move forward and provide Indian-owned businesses with the tools they need to secure viable business opportunities within the Indian gaming industry. Fostering economic opportunities for all tribes on a regular basis is the priority of the AIBN. Anyone who benefits from the Indian gaming industry, be it Indian or non-Indian, should be part of supporting the AIBN.

The overall vision of the AIBN is to create a true “Indian country” economy and to develop a network with programming that benefits all participants, including:

-Native American entrepreneurs
-Indian-owned businesses
-Tribal-owned and operated enterprises
-NIGA member tribes
-Non-NIGA tribes
-NIGA and other national and regional Native American associations
-Corporate partners
-Government agencies
-Non-Indian businesses doing business in Indian country

NIGA recognizes that in order for AIBN to succeed, it is important to expand beyond the NIGA membership and involve support, coordination and cooperation from a number of areas. To those aims, a separate 501(c)(6) corporation was formed, along with an executive board to drive the AIBN initiative. Many efforts have already begun to enlist the assistance of regional and national associations within the United States and in Canada to explore opportunities to create an environment conducive to improved commerce on Indian lands. It has taken some time and effort by many people to get to this point, and we must acknowledge the spirit of teamwork and commitment by all of the people that have been involved over the last several years in helping to move this process forward. We do recognize and understand that building the AIBN is a process and not an event.

Earlier this year, I officially announced the appointments of AIBN’s board of directors, who are individuals throughout the Indian business world that will bring the AIBN to the next level. We were able to hold our first AIBN board of directors meeting in conjunction with the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association annual convention at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community in Prior Lake, Minn.

Serving on the AIBN board of directors are: Jay Emery, council member of the St. Croix Band of Lake Superior Tribe in Wisconsin; Margo Gray-Proctor, chairwoman of the National Center for the American Indian Enterprise Development, who will serve as the secretary/treasurer for AIBN; Richard Bowers, president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Business Council; Kurt Luger, chairman of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association; Pete Homer, president of the National Indian Business Association; Andy Ebona, NIGA executive board member; J.R. Mathews, vice chairman of the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma and NIGA treasurer; Kip Richie, senior vice president of the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation in Pawnee, Okla.; and Gary George, chief operating officer for the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in Pendleton, Ore.

In the spring of 2008 NIGA brought in Blue Stone Strategy Group to continue to spearhead the initiative, and they have been actively involved in supporting the vision, systems and structure of the AIBN and to facilitate the coordination of partners and resources to deliver upon its vision. Their approach has brought about a developing process on how AIBN can serve as a catalyst for economic development and cooperation among tribes and tribal enterprises.

One of the topics in discussion is the role that the AIBN will play in developing procurement opportunities within Indian country. In its traditional sense, procurement has to do with securing contracts to supply goods and services to a government entity. AIBN can play a role in researching opportunities and coordinating resources and assembling a competitive bid that leverages the skills and resources across participating tribes and tribal enterprises.

Additionally, procurement can be seen within the context of the purchasing arm of tribal enterprises. AIBN is exploring the creation of buying groups that will allow tribal enterprises to leverage their purchasing power as a whole and negotiate better pricing than any individual enterprise. Related to that topic would be the establishment of policies, procedures and guidelines for Indian-owned businesses to be able to provide these products and services, thereby not only benefitting the tribal enterprises but also fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in Indian country.

In order to achieve our goals for AIBN, we need to continue to educate tribes on the value of creating a nationwide Indian economy. This requires commitments from tribal governments and tribal enterprises to not only establish “Buy Indian” policies, but to ensure that they are implemented and adhered to. In a recent survey of NIGA member tribes, nearly 26 percent of respondents were interested in AIBN “only if it can help our businesses.” It will be extremely important for tribal governments and enterprises to recognize that the creation of a strong and vibrant Indian economy will benefit all of Indian country and, most importantly, our tribal businesses.

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