At the fifth annual Hubbard Lecture titled “Tribal Economics: A Dark Past and Promising Future,” Lance Morgan presented his main goals for his fellow tribe members: increased job opportunities and self sufficiency.
Morgan is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and is the president and CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., an economic development corporation of the tribe. His presentation at the Great Plains Art Museum on Tuesday, Oct. 24, focused primarily on the causes of extreme poverty seen on reservations and the projects and solutions that his company is working to implement within the Winnebago reservation.
The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has an unemployment rate of 82 percent, while nearby tribes like the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, have even higher rates of unemployment.
Morgan said a fundamental for his company is to help the reservation get to the point where it doesn’t need to ask for money from the U.S. government.
“When the government gives us money, it always comes with strings attached,” Morgan said. “We’d rather be broke than be told what to do.”
Throughout his struggles in trying to help the tribe, Morgan said his associates and himself have come to one conclusion: in order to do one thing on the reservation, you have to do everything.
Morgan said his company would frequently run into problems when trying to develop housing for the tribe. According to Morgan, tribe members wouldn’t be able to take out loans to buy houses because their credit would be damaged by predatory car sale practices. To solve this issue, Ho-Chunk, Inc. opened a car dealership on the reservation.
Morgan explained this was just a small part of the larger struggling economic situation that his company had to deal with. He said problems were compounded by racist and exploitative federal Indian law and political systems that were imposed on them by the U.S. government.
Morgan told a story about a time when his company hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for one of its buildings in Sioux City, Iowa. The bank president who had given his company the loan to finance the project gave Morgan two bottles of whiskey to commemorate the occasion.
“I realized that for the first time in our tribe’s history, we were given alcohol after the deal was signed instead of before,” Morgan said.
He also talked about the issues the tribe faces when members are intelligent, but do not necessarily have formal educations.
According to Morgan, there were only nine college graduates on the reservation in 1994. Today, that number has grown to over 120. He said his company created its own workforce from scratch using internships and scholarships.
Morgan claimed that the biggest risk to the tribe’s future comes from within the reservation. There is no playbook on how to be a tribal company, so Ho-Chunk Inc. has to figure out what to do on its own. He also said Native Americans have the tendency to stereotype themselves.
“You will hear people say to one another that they are not native enough, but culture is evolving and changing every day,” Morgan said. “We have to decide what values from our past we want to take with and embrace for the future.”
Anna Ondracek, a senior global studies and Spanish double major, said she believes it is important to hear native voices, especially those from Nebraska.
“Well, I came for a class where we look at native groups like this and I wasn’t even aware that this was going on,” Ondracek said. “It’s pretty interesting how it connects back to Nebraska and all of the work that he does in Nebraska.”