Pokagon Band wants to create jobs

You might be surprised to hear what’s in the cards for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians now that a new tribal chairman has been elected.

“I think personally speaking we would be making a mistake if we relied solely on a casino,” said Tribal Chairman Elect Matt Wesaw.

The soon-to-be leader of the Indian nation lists job creation as one of his top priorities.

While the tribe’s last big economic development project created some two thousand jobs at the Four Winds Casino near New Buffalo, gaming is not the only game in town, in the mind of the Chairman-Elect.

“We need to diversify, that’s very important in my opinion,” said Wesaw.

The Pokagon Band has created a new Economic Development Board that has been years in the making, and is ready to hold its first meeting either this month or next.

The job of the new board—is to create jobs.

“Other tribes have tried a number of different things. The Bay Mills Indian Community up in the Upper Peninsula in Brimley, they’re involved in a couple of manufacturing opportunities,” said Wesaw.

Wesaw says that doing business on tribal lands would have tax advantages. “If we were to go out and buy a business here in New Buffalo or something, we would be no different than any other person or company that bought another business; we’d be subject to the same tax rates, that whole process.”

While a possible expansion of the Four Winds Casino is under study and still a possibility, Wesaw says, “You know everything isn’t the casino, there are other possibilities out there we just got to find them.”

Wesaw met with quick success in his most recent tribal mission.

A few months after being named as a representative on the Local Revenue Sharing Board, a stalemate that for years kept promised casino revenues from reaching local units of government—was resolved.

“I felt strongly that we could move this board real quick, it’s just a matter of talking and getting people to understand what’s important,” Wesaw said.

Wesaw was elected as the new chairman of the Pokagon Band in voting that wrapped up last weekend. Wesaw finished ahead of four other candidates, including the chairman of the past 11-years, John Miller.

Wesaw is scheduled to begin his three year term on August 15th.

Also high on his list of priorities is extending benefits to tribal members in outlying areas.

For instance, the Pokagon Band now has a health clinic in Dowagiac, and it’s Wesaw’s hope to create another. “I think we also need a building operating five days a week in Indiana, we have many citizens living in Indiana, I think they need better access to health care.”

While a new compact the tribe signed with the State of Michigan in October gives the Pokagon Band the right to set up satellite casinos in Dowagiac and Hartford, Wesaw said there was no timetable for doing so. “Oh that’s certainly not a slam dunk, we have the ability to do it, we always keep that on the table, we have to evaluate where the best place to go right now for the dollar is.”

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