Native Culture Balances Business Development Efforts
By Randy Soulier, COO LDF Business Development Corp.
A few months ago, I was interviewed by a national business publication about our region. I was invited to participate by Vilas County Economic Development Corporation’s (VCEDC) Jim Tuckwell and Bob Egan. They invited me to share my perspective in my role with the LDF Business Development Corporation (LDF BDC), but also as a VCEDC board member.
This is one of many examples of how the region and its leaders are coming together to put our best foot forward. Relationships are strengthening and providing us with more horsepower as we work together to build momentum toward positive outcomes for the region.
The success of any relationship is built on understanding and trust. For one to trust, one needs to understand. For my part, in this column, I thought I’d share some my thoughts from the interview with the national business publication. The intent is to continue to share information to achieve greater understanding as a means to ensuring we continue to progress together.
As Native Americans, we walk in two worlds. One foot in modern America and the other foot planted in Tribal Culture. As an executive at the LDF BDC, each world influences our approach to creating jobs and revenue as the non-gaming arm of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.
What follows is an attempt to give readers a sense of what it’s like to walk in two worlds.
We constantly take inventory of where we come from in terms of Tribal People. Our Native culture and traditions are very well protected, as is our language, which we teach to children from kindergarten to grade 12 and to anyone else who wants to learn. Ours is a world of traditions and cultural values we work to honor in our personal lives and professional decision-making. The Seven Grandfather Teachings provide guideposts. These include taking care of the environment and each other and making decisions based on how we believe it will impact people seven generations from now.
An important part of our culture and heritage is good stewardship of the waterways, which are restocked by the Tribal Department of Natural Resources. Our hatchery stocks lakes with over 200,000 fish per year, with over 415 million walleye restocked in the last 30 years. Those fish are stocked in on-reservation lakes and even some lakes off the reservation.
We also seek self-sufficiency and sustainability in a modern world. Our hunting and gathering traditions remain alive and strong in our culture. But the demands of modern society also require a diverse approach to creating a self-sufficient, sustainable community now and for generations to come. This is a world where diversified business interests provide jobs and revenue required for a community to not only survive, but thrive.
When we started the LDF BDC, we had one employee. Now we have just over 100. Our construction firm is certified for federal contracting. Our retail center provides full-service grocery and gas for all to benefit from. And, finally, we operate an online lending services business with a call center located in downtown Lac du Flambeau.
There’s likely nothing more modern than conducting e-commerce with our online lending operation. Once you have access to the world in terms of high-speed broadband internet, it’s phenomenal how you can scale your businesses. Combined, with the number of employees working in Tribal Government and at the Lake of the Torches Resort & Casino and our LDF BDC business units, Lac du Flambeau has become one of the area’s largest employers for Natives and non-Natives.
Without question, there’s a pull between the two worlds we live in. It requires constant vigilance to ensure we are true to our core cultural values while building a solid foundation of diverse businesses that allow us to create jobs and revenue required for sound economic footing.
From a cultural and tradition perspective, it’s crucial we develop business in a healthy way. It has to fit together in a good balance. The reason we all live here is because it’s beautiful. We don’t want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, as the Jimmy Buffet song says.
None of us can do it alone. That is why we have partnerships with VCEDC, Oneida County EDC, Grow North and many others outside the boundaries of Lac du Flambeau. It’s a rising tide that raises all ships, because nothing will succeed if we try to do it all by ourselves. We need relationships and we need working together to improve the region overall.
Randy Soulier is COO of LDF Business Development Corporation (LDFBDC.com). His 20+ years of business experience includes leadership roles in operations and marketing. He holds degrees in Marketing and Integrative Leadership with emphasis in Human Development. Randy also serves as President of LDF Construction and is a board member for the Vilas Country Economic Development Corporation and the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, Inc. # # #