Harold Monteau: Tribes should live up to their 'Buy Indian' policy
"In a recent conversation with a struggling Native American entrepreneur who was refused a contract by a large Puget Sound Area Indian Casino because her bid for Ink Pens for the hotel and casino was 3 cents per unit more than a non-Indian competitor vendor. Apparently, the manager or procurement officer for this “Indian Casino” was being allowed to determine what Indian and Native Preference meant and, under her interpretation, it did not mean that a 3 cents variation on price was within the preference policy “tolerance”. This was, I’m sure, an interpretation of local tribal law that the tribal government was not even aware of.

The Native American vendor had taken the time to go though the tribe’s TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) qualification process and Tribal Gaming Commission licensing process. She also asked if she could know what the winning bid was and who got it and she was refused this information. She had no way of telling whether the procurement officer’s interpretation of policy was endorsed by the tribe and she had no way of telling whether her rights under the tribe’s law or policy had been violated. She then sought the assistance of CTER (Council on Tribal Employment Rights) that, according to its website, “represents 300 Tribal and Alaska Native TEROs across Indian Country“. CTER is located in Federal Way, Washington and is the national organization for TEROs. While not all tribes have TERO organization, every tribe that has a casino probably has a written policy that calls for Tribal and Indian Preference in hiring, contracting and procurement and a board or committee that oversees compliance, at some level. CTER seemed like a good place to start. However, it became apparent that CTER had no independent authority or jurisdiction to do anything except facilitate inquiries with the numerous individual TEROs. I don’t think she has received any satisfactory answers to this date. Her experience mirrors the experience of many Indian/Native owned companies that have been struggling to get into the casino supply chain in recent years.

I had just finished a draft concept for a potential non-profit organization that would be dedicated to standardizing and monitoring compliance with Indian Preference and Buy Indian/ Buy Native laws and policies. This organization would be strictly non-compulsive (unless tribes agreed to make it compulsive) as far as participation either on a regional or national basis. It would work through the Tribal Governments and their TEROs to bring consistency to Tribal Preference and Indian Preference Laws and Policy, provide for Regional and/or National Clearinghouses and Registries for certification, maintain lists of approved companies and firms, investigate false claims of certification, issue reports on the State of Buy Indian/Buy Native progress toward the 10%goal, issue confidential reports to tribes on non-compliance on a local basis, issue reports to tribes, congress and federal and state procurement sources on non-compliance."

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