Economic official meets with UP tribes

MARQUETTE — Learning about issues facing regional tribes was the main reason for a recent Upper Peninsula visit from Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Quentin Messer Jr.

An MEDC contingent that included Messer met with members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians on March 30.

“I’m encouraged by the conversations, that we know there’s work ahead, but we’re grateful for their openness and willingness to work with MEDC, and continue to try to develop solutions that are going to be beneficial not only for their members but all Michiganders,” Messer said.

Several topics were brought up at the discussions, he said, including making sure there is training for the workforce to afford the tribal communities greater economic opportunities — also a statewide goal — and ensuring there is affordable housing for beginning professionals and other working people.

“I think the third thing is, ‘How can we work together to make sure we’re in better connectivity with all aspects of government?'” Messer said.

MEDC, he pointed out, seeks to provide what he called that “connective tissue.”

Messer said that MEDC is committed to working with tribal councils and following up on specifics.

“This is not just a ‘one and done’ talk,” he said. “The goal is to be able to show tangible progress six months from now, a year from now, 18 months from now.”

What spurred the meetings, according to Messer, was something to which MEDC was committed for years.

“We’re committed to making sure that we’re engaged with tribal communities on both peninsulas,” he said.

Messer and his colleagues were also scheduled to meet with the Hannahville Indian Community and the Bay Mills Indian Community.

Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said he met with the MEDC delegation.

Payment said he had encouraged Messer to visit tribes in Michigan to tie in MEDC marketing with that of the tribes to bring in tourism dollars. He also noted it’s part of Pure Michigan’s mission to “add value to tourism.”

About 10 years ago, the idea of connecting tribes’ marketing to the state’s efforts was expressed, Payment said, but tribes were unfamiliar with marketing.

“I think we’re at a point now, farther along, where tribes are more adept at understanding, ‘How do we market ourselves?'” Payment said.

Powwows, tribal enterprises and cultural centers such as the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in downstate Mount Pleasant, operated by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, are examples of attractions tourists may visit, he said.

The Sault Tribe, Payment noted, has permanent powwow grounds and is looking to establish an interpretive center in its recreational facility.

Payment acknowledged that some tourists are “one and done” when it comes to visiting a site.

“Others like to take advantage of the diversity and the local cultural opportunities,” he said.


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