Last Tuesday, Bethany Vinton and Kodi Gehl had the opportunity to live tweet from the Hubbard Lecture: Tribal Economics. Below is their synopsis of the event.
Ho-Chunk, Inc. is the award-winning economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. It was established in 1994 in Winnebago, Nebraska with one employee. Ho-Chunk, Inc. has grown to now over 1,000 employees with operations in 24 states and 10 foreign countries.
The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has fought poverty and all the related issues. Throughout the 20th century, times were hard on the Winnebago Reservation in northeast Nebraska, and the opportunities for a rural reservation were very limited.
In 1992, after changes to federal gambling laws, the Winnebago Tribe opened a casino on tribal land near the town of Sloan, Iowa. The casino was an immediate success. But in 1994, Iowa expanded gaming in the tribe’s primary markets. The tribe realized that gaming revenues would not be a long-term solution to their overall goal of prosperity.
Ho-Chunk, Inc. was formed in 1994 with one employee to diversify the tribe’s investments away from gaming. The goal was to develop an entrepreneurial company that was able to recognize and develop various economic opportunities.
Lance Morgan is President and Chief Executive Officer of Ho-Chunk, Inc. Morgan launched Ho-Chunk, Inc. in 1994 as the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Under his leadership, Ho-Chunk, Inc. has been recognized by a variety of national organizations including: Innovations in Government Award, sponsored by Harvard University and the Ford Foundation; Honoring Nations Award, also sponsored by Harvard; Minority Business Magazine, Entrepreneurial Spirit Award; Distinguished Alumni Speaker, Harvard Law School; Small Business Administration; U.S. Department of State; U.S. Department of Commerce; and the White House.
Morgan was selected as a “Champion of Change” by the White House in 2011. In 2012, he was awarded the Nebraska Builder Award by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was the keynote speaker for commencement ceremonies. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indian in 2013/2014. He was also given the Advocate of the Year Award by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.
Morgan earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (B. S. 1990) and graduated from Harvard Law School (J.D. 1993). He is a member of the Minnesota Bar Association. He is also an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
On Tuesday, October 24, from 7:00-9:00pm, Morgan spoke at the Great Plains Center for Studies. He discussed the Native American troubles of the past, what Ho Chunk, Inc. is doing now, and what the future looks like for Ho Chunk Village.
The Winnebago tribe was originally in the tri-state area, but was shuffled around to five different locations before they were finally brought to a small reservation in 1865. The forced movement of the tribe caused the loss of culture and livelihoods. Lance believes that one of the major reasons they live in poverty today is because of the Tribal Trust Land. The Tribal Trust Land means that the government cannot take away their land, but it also means that they have no collateral, no mortgages, no inheritance, and no enterprise. The community has a low chance of thriving on its own because it has no taxes that can sustain itself.
Morgan did point out the advantages they do have as tribal peoples. They have access to many grants, government contracting, sovereign immunity, and they write their own laws. Morgan has thrived off the advantages and founded a company called Ho Chunk, Inc. The company started small, but now has over 1200 employees and presides in 24 different countries. This company created a brand new healthy, developing community called Ho Chunk Village for the Winnebago Tribe. This village is meant to encourage healthy lifestyles, cultural development, economic development, and more. It has moved from having 9 college graduates from their community in 1994 to over 120 in this present year. Ho Chunk Village started on 40 acres, has grown, and they are looking to buying more land and expanding even more. Their goal is to move from poverty to self-sufficiency and prosperity and “create a virtuous cycle of opportunity”, according to Lance Morgan.