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Government officials and members of the private sector met Thursday at the Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Summit and Trade Show at the Northern Lights Casino and Events Center. Samuel Strong, director of economic development for the Red Lake Nation, center, LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III, member of the Leech Lake Nation’s Tribal Council, right, and Rita Albrecht, mayor of Bemidji, far right, speak with Gary Johnson, CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, left. Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer

Northern tribal officials talk economic opportunity at two-day summit, trade show

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WALKER — Although the federal government shutdown was technically over Thursday, organizers of the 2013 Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Summit, hosted on the Leech Lake Reservation, still had to contend with its effects as they handled cancellations from some of the federal officials originally scheduled to deliver speeches and take part in the discussion.

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Colleen Landkamer, director for the Minnesota branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, and other federal officials were slated to speak but had to cancel as a result of the shutdown.

Nevertheless, representatives from the White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake Ojibwe Nations pressed on with the two-day event at Northern Lights Casino near Walker. The event included educational seminars and a trade show featuring businesses with ties to the reservations.

 The summit portion of the event happened as tribal government officials from the three tribal nations gathered Thursday with state and federal officials not affected by the shutdown and members of the private sector to talk about ways to help economic development on the reservation.

A large part of the discussion at the meeting revolved around joint marketing between the three nations for the industries offered in their region of Minnesota. Al Paulson, of the marketing company Marketplace Productions LLC, gave an example of possibly marketing wild rice from the reservations together as a regional consortium, similar to the way grapes are marketed in the Bordeaux region of France.

“It works to market your own, but…since we’re all Minnesota wild rice… maybe there’s a way to put that together in a consortium and sell that internationally,” he said.

Samuel Strong, director of economic development with the Red Lake Nation, said tourism on the reservations was also a prime industry for the three nations to market as one region.

“We’re all Anishinaabe people… we have that pride in northern Minnesota,” he said. “We have a huge (tourism) industry up here, and if were to come together to help market as a collective, I think we would have a lot to offer.”

Other topics that came up in the tribal leadership session included the New Markets Tax Credits offered by the U.S. Treasury to businesses and other entities for economic development in low-income areas across the United States.

Madonna Peltier Yawakie, of Turtle Island Communications, said her company had firsthand experience from obtaining the credits.  She said although it’s a complex process to apply for them, the results are well worth the effort.

“I do believe that tribes should start to think about promoting Indian-owned (corporations for tax credits) because those create wealth,” she said.

Toni Merdan, from the office of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, pointed out that Congress may or may not renew the credits again as it irons out federal appropriations in the coming months. She gave examples of organizations that had quickly exhausted their tax credit money since the amount was relatively small.

“There’s not enough money to go around,” she said.

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