Tribes push for international trade at Oklahoma conference
By MOLLY FLEMING
Jun. 18, 2018
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Citizen Potawatomi Nation Economic Development Director Jim Collard said the tribe has been close to having an international business take up residency at its Iron Horse Industrial Park.
One of the near misses was due to the 400-acre park not being big enough, he said.
"We're in the process of doubling now," he said.
But he said he'll be meeting soon with another company that is considering the site because moving onto tribal land gives the business the perk of helping people who are underserved.
Collard recently spoke at the fourth annual International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization Conference, held at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
At the conference, tribal business leaders spoke about how Canadian and Oklahoma tribes could promote trade across international borders, the Journal Record reported .
The Iron Horse park is a foreign-trade zone. Companies that set up shop on the site will be exempted from duty costs on imported, raw materials, and outgoing waste and other materials. The businesses also won't face tariffs on goods they sell to the U.S.
Besides the foreign-trade-zone advantages, the tribe can offer business-recruitment incentives from the state as well.
"We are a wonderful place to bring your products into this part of the country," Collard said. "It's a beta site for what IITIO is trying to accomplish."
IITIO started four years ago after OU College of Law Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy Faculty Director Lindsay Robertson met with IITIO Chairman Wayne Garnons-Williams. Garnons-Williams works in tribal law in Canada.
Robertson said the idea behind the conference was to reintroduce tribal leaders to the idea of trading without borders, as the tribal nations did in their history. Tribes once traded with each other because they were all on the North American continent.
"We want to open up those connections again," Robertson said.
Bradford Morse, faculty of law dean at the British Columbia-based Thompson Rivers University, said the intertribal trade offers some advantages for both parties. There are shared experiences, which can make it easier to connect with each other.
"There's also the assumption that people will want to do a fair deal with everyone involved," Morse said.
Within the deal, each tribal business is trying to support government operations, which help promote culture, education and health care for its own people. The other nation wouldn't want to shortchange an entity that's trying to make a difference, Robertson said.
Collard said that's the big-picture reason behind tribal economic development. It's about taking care of tribal citizens.
"Our service is to provide services to citizens who have historically been underserved," he said. "Rural Oklahoma would be in deep trouble without the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations."
Chickasaw Nation Industries Executive Vice President Tom Leydorf said the entity generated $3.2 billion in revenue in 2017, which is an all-time high. CNI invests in other businesses to generate money back for the tribe.
CNI bought out a majority owner in the company, Filtra-Systems, which does business in Canada.
Choctaw Nation Department of Commerce Senior Legal Director Scott Freeny said the tribe has money it could invest if a project will help generate jobs or revenue.
The tribe would like to get its pecans sold in Canada and would be interested in selling Canadian-tribal-made items in its convenience stores or casinos. The Choctaw Nation is also opening an ammunition plant and has a hotel/casino operations business.
"We'd love to have the opportunity to talk about partnerships like that with a Canadian tribe or another tribe around the country," Freeny said.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Joseph Norton said his Quebec-area tribe has two opportunities it can offer U.S. Indian nations. The Mohawk Council is operating a data center. It sits on sovereign land, and it's never been hacked in 22 years, he said. He invited tribes to store their data at the center.
The tribe is also familiar with sports betting and already has an agreement with a New Jersey tribe to get into the gambling sector.
"If you need help, let me know," Norton said to Freeny and Leydorf during a panel discussion.
It's those kinds of partnerships that Robertson and Garnons-Williams were hoping to create, Robertson said. The interest from Oklahoma's tribes has increased every year, he said. The event is held twice a year — one time at OU and the other time in Canada.
Chickasaw Nation Industries CEO David Nimmo said the organization is good because it helps connect tribes to other tribes that are not doing as well, so everyone can benefit.
"Of all the things we need to do as a tribal organization, it's get involved in organizations like this that don't have the advantages we have," he said.
Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com