Winnebago Tribe recognized for economic success
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Seven years ago, unemployment on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska hovered around 70 percent.

Poverty was rampant. Social problems were common. Morale was low.

Tribal leaders decided to do something about it. They started a company.

With little in terms of seed money, the tribe handed its economic future off to a tribal member with a Harvard degree. In 1995, Lance Morgan took that gamble -- made possible with profits gleamed from the tribe's casino -- and created Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the tribe.

Seven years later, the tribe has emerged with $50 million in revenues and a portfolio of businesses that would make any executive proud.

And national recognition for its efforts.

On Thursday, tribal officials and executives traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept accolades from Harvard University. Harvard's Kennedy School of Government chose Ho-Chunk as one of its five winners in a national governmental awards program.

In doing so, the tribe beat out more than 1,200 state, local and the federal applicants nationwide. They even beat out an "exemplary group" of 15 national finalists to make the final cut, said David Gergen, a professor at the government school.

"We're in very good hands for the foreseeable future," added Michael Lipsky of the Ford Foundation, the backers of the $100,000 award the tribe has received.

To tribal chairman John Blackhawk, the real winners are the tribal members who have not only benefited from Ho-Chunk's successes but have also been the company's greatest champions. "It really demonstrates our commitment to our people," Blackhawk said.

"I'm very proud of our efforts to empower our people," he added.

Health, education and employment are just some of the benefits that Ho-Chunk has brought to the reservation, said tribal officials. Employment, for one, has dropped to 20 percent.

Meanwhile, the tribe continues to diversify its holdings. Hotels, convenience stores a housing manufacturer and two web sites -- Indianz.Com and AllNative.Com -- are but a few of the businesses that bear the Ho-Chunk name.

Spreading the word in Indian Country about the success is one of the tribe's goals, said Blackhawk. The Harvard award will help in that respect, he said.

The Winnebago Tribe was the only tribal government up for the Innovations in American Government Award. Other programs who won included the the federal government's Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Patient Safety; OK First, the state of Oklahoma's web-based emergency awareness system; California's Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program; and the Toledo Plan to improve the quality of teaching in Toledo, Ohio.

Previously, the Winnebago Tribe has won Harvard University's Honoring Nations Award, sponsored by the Kenndy School of Government's Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Relevant Links:
The Winnebago Tribe -
Indianz.Com -
AllNative.Com -
Innovations in American Government Award -

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