Potawatomi Nation Economic Development Summit Explores Path to a Shared Venture

Back Row, L to R: Brian McInnes (Wasauksing), Geewadin Elliot (Chippewas of Nawash), Zachary McCue (The Waabgaag Group), John Alloway (FCP), Raphael Wahwassuck (PBPN), Joseph Rupnick (PBPN), Jason Henry (Kettle & Stony Point), Jordan Comer (GLI), Immanuel Johnson II (FCP PBDC), Steve Tooshkenig (Walpole), James Crawford (FCP), Dan Miskokomon (Walpole), Jason Smalley (CPN), William Evans (PBPN), John “Rocky” Barrett (CPN), Wade Pahmahmie (PBPN), Jon Boursaw (CPN), Brian Pierson (FCP Atty.) Front Row, L to R: Theresa McInnes (Wasauksing), Camilla Chouteau (PBPN), Dawn LeClere (PBPN), Noreena Mishigaud-Dwyer (Hannahville), Martha Pedoniquotte (Chippewas of Nawash), Alicia Falcon (GLI), Mae Joslin (PBPN), Jessi Goldner (WDC) and Solomon King (Chippewas of Nawash). Not pictured: Brooks Boyd (FCP), Skye Alloway (FCP), Jacob Wamego (PB LLC) and Zach Pahmahmie (PBPN).

By: Michelle Simon

Envoys from the various bands of the greater Potawatomi Nation gathered together at the Potawatomi Nation Economic Development Summit II on January 28 and 29, 2020, to explore the framework for possible shared economic ventures. The summit provided two presentations on completed economic projects as prime examples and included lengthy discussion focused on the post-colonial geopolitics of each band, along with next steps.

Waséyabek Development Company Compliance and Office Manager, Jessi Goldner, and Gun Lake Investments CEO, Kurtis Trevan, shared the story of their successful partnership in obtaining McKay Tower in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich.

Gun Lake Investments CEO, Kurtis Trevan, and Waséyabek Development Company Compliance and Office Manager, Jessi Goldner presented on their significant joint venture; the $17.5M purchase of the historic McKay Tower located in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. which was acquired in January 2020. The acquisition represents a rare co-investment by the non-gaming economic development entities of two Potawatomi tribes, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe) and the Nottawaseppi (Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians) respectively.

Jon Boursaw, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Legislator, provided an in-depth look at the economic ventures of his respective Nation. CPN is the 10th largest tribe in the U.S. and Boursaw represents approximately 3,000 CPN members located in Kansas.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Legislator Jon Boursaw also delivered a presentation, detailing the economic achievements of the CPN. Their achievements include operating the largest Native American owned bank in the United States, establishing a free trade zone, developing a 6-field sporting complex, in addition to their casino, covered arena, grocery stores, golf course, and several other business and government operations.

The discussion that took place during the summit was reminiscent of the great chiefs of old. Many wise words and stories were shared from tribe to tribe as attendees worked congruously to determine what the framework for ongoing opportunities might look like.

Steve Tooshkenig, Walpole Island First Nation Council Member (sitting) shared his views with the summit, as did Walpole Island First Nation Chief, Dan Miskokomon, stating “We have rights. Let’s use them.”

Alongside the bold initiative to strengthen the collective Potawatomi Nation, a range of challenges will also need to be navigated including local, state, and international jurisdictional issues and each individual band’s community readiness. As Theresa McInnes, Councillor for Wasauksing First Nation stated, “You must include your community in your canoe.”

“The membership of our communities are our real assets,” stated Solomon King, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Councillor, expressing a common theme throughout the summit.

This was the second summit in a series, this one hosted by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Casino and Resort in Mayetta, Kan. The first summit, hosted by the Forest County Potawatomi took place in Milwaukee, Wis. in October 2019. The individual bands have determined to meet quarterly and the next two summits are slated for April 2020, hosted by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe), and July 2020 during the 2020 Annual Potawatomi Gathering hosted by the Hannahville Indian Community.

While not a new idea, as the nine recognized bands of the greater Potawatomi Nation, have discussed ways to exercise their sovereign strength together for well over 20 years, this time around it appears many of the bands are positioned to bring a shared venture to fruition.

  • What is meant by “nine recognized bands”? There are currently nine bands (tribes) formally recognized by the United States and Canadian governments as consisting of Potawatomi Peoples.

    Due to the removal policies of the 1800s, some Potawatomi Peoples found sanctuary within other tribes. Two of these tribes include the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Leadership from these tribes have recently brought this history forward.