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Economic diversification is the game today

Economic diversification is key for any organization’s long-term success, and this is true in more than just a fiscal sense for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.
Michiana has been home to the Pokagon Band for hundreds of years. The federal government reaffirmed the tribe’s sovereignty on September 21, 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed their Restoration Act. Since then, the tribe has established its government, with its own constitution and programs, and businesses to fund it.

The Band’s first business venture was the Four Winds Casino and Resort in New Buffalo, Mich. The Band later opened two additional casinos under the same name in Hartford and Dowagiac, Mich., but before opening the satellite casinos, government leaders realized that, despite Four Wind’s success, the tribe could not rely solely on casino revenue.

“Economic development and diversification from gaming is critical for the Pokagon tribe, and I know it’s important for other tribes,” said Eugene Magnuson, Tribal Council treasurer. “We can’t rely on gaming forever.”

In 2007, the government created Mno-Bmadsen (meh no-buh MOD sen), which means “walking the good path” in Potawatomi. Often referred to as “Mno” at the Pokagon Band, it ensures long-term economic success for the Band by acquiring established businesses or developing new businesses altogether—none of which involve gaming.

Mno-Bmadsen has overseen the establishment or procurement of five non-gaming entities: Accu-Mold, Seven Generations Architecture and Engineering, Bent Tree Market, D.A. Dodd, and most recently, Seven Generations Construction.

“As leaders we must think about the future,” said Troy Clay, president and CEO of Mno-Bmadsen. “We don’t know for certain the future of gaming. What we do know is that we reduce the risk of that uncertainty by diversifying our investments. We also strengthen our tribal community by increasing the capacity of our people to invest in and manage those other business pursuits.”

This broad array of businesses require skilled workforces to make them succeed, so the Band provides opportunities to their citizens and staff for education and training in these areas.

The Band’s Apprenticeship Program trains citizens in the craft of carpentry. The program includes in-class instruction and on-the-job experience. Recently, apprentices reroofed the New Birth Christian Ministries building in South Bend and built three 4-by-12 raised beds for a Pokagon community garden.

The Band has also partnered with local schools to ensure citizens and staff can pursue higher education and study topics beneficial to a career with the Band and its entities. At Indiana University South Bend (IUSB), citizens living in service-area counties in Michigan can attend at Indiana’s in-state rate. This agreement honors the tribe’s ancestral lands, which span across the Michigan-Indiana state line.

Starting this fall, Southwestern Michigan College will offer the Tribal Leadership Program. Students will study Native American history and policy, as well as leadership and marketing. Graduates will receive a certificate and an edge in the Pokagon Band government.

Citizens and staff can also study in 10-person cohorts at Lake Michigan College, particularly in the Hanson Technology Center, set to be completed in 2017. The three avenues available to students will provide them with the skills to work in the Band’s manufacturing businesses, government, or in casinos.

The success and life span of the Pokagon Band is tied inherently to the success of its citizens, which is why their education and training is held in high regard and priority. The Band strives to be a self-sufficient nation so it can continue to support its citizens and culture, sharing the good teachings of its people.

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