From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Task force promotes Native American economic growth

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 18 Dec 2001 15:25:23 -0600

Dec. 18, 2001   News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202) 546-87227Washington

WASHINGTON (UMNS) -- A new United Methodist task force will evaluate
existing investment and vendor contracts that the church has with Native
American enterprises and encourage increases in them as part of its work in
promoting economic growth.

The United Methodist Native American Economic Development and Empowerment
Task Force, meeting Dec. 14-15, also made plans to work on influencing
public policy for Native American development; assessing collaborative
models of economic empowerment; and engaging other religious bodies in
support of native sovereignty.

The task force was scheduled to meet Sept. 20-21, but the meeting was
postponed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

The first such task force was created during the 1997-2000 quadrennium to
explore alternatives to gambling that native people could use for producing
income. With financial and staff support from the United Methodist Board of
Church and Society and the Board of Global Ministries, that task force held
its initial meeting in May 1998. At the end of the quadrennium, the task
force joined other groups in recommending a continuation of its work.

After legislative briefings by representatives of the National Congress of
American Indians, the U.S. Interior Department and the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs, the task force reviewed the findings of its predecessor
through a report by Olivia Schwartz, a Lumbee of Upper Marlboro, Md.
Schwartz is one of the few members of the current task force who served on
the earlier group.

Ann Saunkeah, a Cherokee from Tulsa, Okla., represented the Native American
Comprehensive Plan, a denominational mission program to support Native
American leadership and ministries.

In a panel discussion of how the church can support economic development in
Indian Country, Sherry Salway Black, an Oglala Lakota and representative of
the First Nations Development Institute, said American Indians are "the
poorest people in the country" because they have not controlled their

"If you don't have control, you don't have responsibility," she asserted.  

History is a key to understanding the current situation, she said. Until
about 30 years ago, Indian communities had centrally based economies with
the federal government as the final authority, she said. "We didn't control
our own economy."  New legislation in the late 1960s and early 1970s began a
process of change that saw innovation and growth in American Indian
self-government as well as economic systems.

Black cited other current trends, including more Native American
philanthropy, development of financial institutions, "dramatic growth" in
the number of non-profit institutions under Native American control and
increased attention to food and land-use issues. She foresees some need for
cooperative ventures across tribal boundaries.

Montana has 11 tribes on seven reservations, and some of the tribes sharing
reservations are historical enemies - a fact that has not encouraged
cooperation and economic development, said Andrea Main, a member of the Gros
Ventre nation and representative of the Montana Native American Development
and Finance Initiative.

"The policies that have been put in place were not determined by the
tribes," she said. The policies were imposed by a federal government that
relegated native people to the most remote and least desirable parts of the
country. She cited recent studies that point to a resulting lack of
infrastructure as a major obstacle to economic development.

Attitudes are important too, Main noted. Successful development requires
business-oriented people in the areas, she said. She urged support for the
community development corporations. 

Task force member Gary Brouse, of the Interfaith Center on Corporate
Responsibility, participated in the panel discussion by conference call and
stressed the importance of increasing the investment money going into Indian

He reported that he is getting many calls from brokers and money managers
seeking ways to help Native American communities. "They've never before
taken this seriously," and they have the potential to bring in others for
investment, Brouse said.

J.D. Colbert, a Creek-Chickasaw of the North American Native Bankers
Association, listed two important reasons for tribes to own a bank: return
on investment and control. "It's hard not to make money in banking, but it's
a difficult business to get into," he said. As for control, he said tribes
should be as concerned about controlling access to capital as they are about
tribal sovereignty.

Indian country needs the community bank, where the individual and the tribe
are important, he said.

Colbert stressed that he is not talking about "off shore" banks, which are
unregulated. Tribes have been approached by outsiders to set up such banks
on sovereign lands, he said, but those tend to be money-laundering
operations. "We do not represent those kinds of banks," he declared on
behalf of the association.

Deborah Skenandore, an Oneida, said she believes a "cultural renaissance" is
under way among Native Americans. But one of the inherent problems native
people have faced in trying to preserve their cultures is the difficulty of
entering into complex deals with outside organizations, she said.

Skenandore, a former chief of the Oneidas from Oneida, Wis., was elected
chairwoman of the task force. Millard Lowery Jr., a Lumbee from Sanford,
N.C., was elected vice chairman, and the Rev. David M. Wilson, a Choctaw
from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, was elected secretary.

The task force edited the mission statement written by the previous task
force to read: "To enable the United Methodist Church and other churches to
be more engaged in assisting Native Americans - American Indians, Alaska
Natives and Hawaiian Natives - in their efforts for economic development and
report to the 2004 General Conference."

Several task force members were asked to attend meetings of interest during
the first six months of 2002 and to report back to the task force when it
meets in summer in Montana.

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United Methodist News Service
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