Native American tribes across the country are expanding their real estate holdings, moving past casinos in search of stable returns and opportunities to rebuild their communities.
Citing a unique political opportunity and new channels of capital, tribal leaders have recently invested in more commercial and mixed-use buildings that offer profit potential and social benefits for other members, the New York Times reported.
For some tribes, owning real estate carries symbolic importance, representing reasserted control over ancestral plots. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Gun Lake tribe and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi recently made their mark on the skyline, purchasing the mixed-use McKay Tower, built on ancestral land.
“It was our way to help plant a flag on lands that used to be tribally owned,” Kurtis Trevan, chief executive of Gun Lake Investments, the business arm of the Gun Lake tribe, told the Times.
After the Indian Gaming Act of 1988 set up federal rules for gambling on Native American land, casinos became a boon for cash-strapped tribes. Gaming yielded $34.6 billion for them in 2019 alone, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
But in the wake of a pandemic that slammed casinos nationwide, some tribes now see real estate investments as a hedge against future downturns.
“Real estate is a very stable investment,” Deidra Mitchell, chief executive of the Waséyabek Development Company, one of the investors in McKay Tower, told the Times. “Land historically is important to tribes, so there is a cultural piece of it as well,” she said.
Still more feel they finally have a willing partner in government, as Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary and has moved to fast-track tribal land acquisitions near their reservations. “There is cautious optimism and a sense of opportunity in developing its land for community and economic development purposes,” Haaland said.
Other tribes are placing a premium on housing. The Pascua Yaqui tribe near Tucson recently began building a mixed-use subdivision of 50 single-family homes, townhouses, commercial and retail space. The project got a boost from private and public sources, earning nearly $2 million in low-income-housing tax credits and $16 million from Raymond James, a partner in the investment.
“We had financial opportunity and a unique willingness at the political level to get things done,” Keith Gregory, the tribe’s housing director, told the Times.
[NYT] — Joe Lovinger