Just over two years ago, the coronavirus pandemic crippled many tribal economies. Hotels, casinos and tourism businesses that fund many tribal governments and employ many natives have closed, in some cases for a year or more.
Recovery from this crisis is on the agenda this year Booking Economy Summit, which is underway this week. Tribal leaders, business owners and other stakeholders gathered in Las Vegas for the event.
Like most tribes, the Northern Arapaho have no tax base. Instead, its government and services are funded by tribal businesses, particularly its hotel and casinos in central Wyoming.
“And during the pandemic, all of these things have been shut down,” said Jordan Dresser, president of the Northern Arapaho Business Council. He said the past two years have been a wake-up call.
“Our tribes were really struggling. We were trying to figure out, like, what are we going to do? he said. At the Reservation Economic Summit, Dresser spoke with other leaders about diversification into sectors such as hemp production and renewable energy.
“Wind, solar, all these different things, that’s where we’re going to be able to sustain ourselves,” Dresser said.
Another hot topic from the summit is food sovereignty, according to Carly Hotvedt, associate director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.
After the pandemic exposed weaknesses in national food supply chains, she said, tribes are strengthening theirs.
“Tribes are introducing meat processing facilities, or they are considering product processing facilities, distribution space or warehouse space,” Hotvedt said.
But Casey Lozar, director of the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said one of the biggest obstacles to economic recovery in Indian Country is high unemployment.
“When you look at our non-metro reservations-based savings, that sits at 10.5%,” Lozar said. Which is about three times the national average, and that’s probably an undercount.
Lozar said that was another thing that kept coming up at the top this year. “We are hearing more and more from tribal leaders about the importance of collecting and leveraging tribal-centric economic data,” Lozar said.
An accurate unemployment rate and a clearer picture of tribal contributions to regional economies — Indian Country needs this information to emerge economically stronger from the pandemic, Lozar said.
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