Native American tribes across the country are expanding their real estate holdings, walking 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 potential for profit and social benefits for other members, The New York Times reported.
For some tribes, owning real estate is of 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 by purchasing the mixed-use McKay Tower, built on ancestral lands.
“It was our way of helping to plant a flag on land that once belonged to tribes,” Kurtis Trevan, managing director of Gun Lake Investments, the commercial arm of the Gun Lake tribe, told The Times.
After the Indian Gaming Act of 1988 established federal rules for gambling on Native American lands, casinos became a boon to cash-strapped tribes. Games earned them $ 34.6 billion in 2019 alone, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
But in the wake of a pandemic that has hit casinos across the country, some tribes are now viewing real estate investments as a hedge against future downturns.
“Real estate is a very stable investment,” Deidra Mitchell, managing director of Waséyabek Development Company, one of the investors in McKay Tower, told The Times. “Historically, land is important to tribes, so there is also a cultural element,” she said.
Even more believe they finally have a willing partner in government, as Home Secretary Deb Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary and has decided to speed up acquisitions of tribal lands near their reservations. “There is cautious optimism and a sense of expediency in the development of his land for community and economic development purposes,” Haaland said.
Other tribes attach great importance to housing. The Pascua Yaqui tribe near Tucson recently began building a mixed-use subdivision of 50 single-family homes, townhouses, commercial and retail spaces. The project received a boost from private and public sources, earning nearly $ 2 million in low-income housing tax credits and $ 16 million from Raymond James, an investment partner.
“We had financial opportunities and a unique political will to get things done,” Keith Gregory, the tribe’s housing director, told The Times.
[NYT] – Joe Lovinger