Here is a round up of business news from around Indian Country.
• Waséyabek Development Co., the non-gaming arm of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, partnered with Gun Lake Investments, the economic development arm for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, or Gun Lake Tribe, to acquire Zip Xpress Inc. and Green Transportation Inc., both based in Holland, Mich. The firms were owned by the husband and wife team of Dina McKnight-Dargis and Mike Dargis. Terms of the deals were undisclosed. DWH LLC, which is majority owned by Waséyabek, will manage the partnership. As well, DWH LLC CEO Monica King also serves as interim CEO for Gun Lake Investments, following the departure earlier this year of Kurtis Trevan. Zip Xpress is a woman-owned general and specialty commodity carrier serving 38 states. Green Transportation provides long-distance trucking services to Zip and several other companies. News of the deal was first reported by regional business publication MiBiz.
• Bering Straits Native Corporation acquired Anchorage, Alaska-based Central Environmental Inc., a full-service general construction, demolition, utilities and environmental firm, according to a statement. The deal also included CEI’s four subsidiary companies: Central Recycling Services, C.I. Contractors, Environmental Management Inc., and Concrete Coring Services. CEI Founder Stuart Jacques will continue to serve as president of the company, which serves an array of private, commercial, industrial, municipal, state and federal governmental agencies. CEI has offices in Fairbanks, Alaska and Las Vegas, Nev. and employs 120 people. “Over the past year we thoughtfully evaluated the possibilities and benefits presented by this acquisition,” BSNC President and CEO Gail Schubert said in a statement. “We determined that CEI’s impressive capabilities and projects align well with BSNC’s growing portfolio of companies. We are pleased that Stuart Jacques will stay on with the company and continue to manage day-to-day business activities. We welcome CEI employees to the BSNC family.”
• Brentwood, Tenn.-based Relevance Ventures, a Native American-owned and -operated venture capital firm, led a $7 million Series A funding round in easyvet LLC, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based startup that’s developing a franchise of walk-in veterinary clinics. Easyvet plans to use the round to fund the company’s next phase of growth. “We are thrilled to partner with easyvet, with whom we share many values,” Cameron Newton, general partner of Relevance Ventures, said in a statement. “We have a deep appreciation for the passion the easyvet team brings to improving the wellbeing of pets and people. They have a compelling vision, a disruptive approach, and a suite of services for the fast-growing pet care market. We are proud to support their mission to reshape the veterinary medicine space.” A representative from Relevance Ventures will join the board of easyvet as part of the deal.
• The Alaska Federation of Natives will host its 2021 Annual Convention virtually on Dec. 13 and 14. The organization said it consulted with various health officials and reviewed COVID-19 case trends in making the decision to move to a virtual format for the second year in a row, citing “concern for the safety and health of the thousands of attendees who come from every part of Alaska, including AFN delegates, presenters, other participants, artists and exhibitors, and the public.” The convention had been planned for Oct. 21-23, but was postponed until December because of public health concerns. At the time, the AFN board said it would monitor data before determining whether to host the conference in-person.
• FireKeepers Casino, the gaming enterprise of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, has selected Philadelphia, Pa.-based OtherLevels as its preferred digital player engagement partner, according to a statement. Under the deal, OtherLevels will provide web, app, inbox and interstitial messaging capabilities for the Michigan-based casino's digital gaming and sportsbook operations. The partnership will allow the sportsbook to deliver messages to the players based on live game data, user actions and other information. “Our players are the focus of everything we do at FireKeepers,” FireKeepers Casino Hotel CEO Kathy George said in a statement. “We are pleased to partner with OtherLevels to help us engage and connect with our online players, and truly give them a FireKeepers experience.”
• The Shingle Springs Tribal Gaming Authority, an enterprise of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, purchased more than 10 acres of land adjacent to the Red Hawk Casino near Placerville, Calif., according to a report in the Sacramento Business Journal. The tribe did not comment to the publication on the deal, but had said in the past that it was open to purchasing additional property as it became available. The authority paid $1.5 million for the property, according to the report. This summer, the tribe broke ground on an expansion of the Red Hawk Casino, including the addition of a 120,000-square-foot, 150-room hotel designed by Roseville, Calif.-based Williams + Paddon Architects + Planners Inc., and constructed by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Level 10 Construction and Orangevale, Calif.-based Avanti Builders Inc.
• Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) partnered with the American Indian Graduate Center to launch the NextEra Energy Scholarship Program, aimed at Native students who are pursuing careers in energy and STEM subjects, according to a statement. The program will provide $5,000 scholarships to 15 undergraduate and graduate students. NextEra Energy committed to funding the program for the next three years. “American Indian Graduate Center is excited to partner with NextEra Energy to create a new program to increase the number of scholars we impact each year,” American Indian Graduate Center Executive Director Angelique Albert (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes) said in a statement. “We are proud to offer programming that meets the needs of our students and directly impacts their academic journeys.”
• Chief Lake, Wis.-based Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College, one of two tribal colleges in Wisconsin, has launched a new initiative with Uwill, a Needham, Mass.-based mental health and wellness platform, to provide immediate access to counseling for students and faculty. According to a statement, LCOOC is launching the telehealth initiative following growing demand for campus mental health services in recent years, which was likely worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Uwill’s system uses artificial intelligence to connect students and faculty to available counselors. “The past eighteen months have exacerbated a nationwide campus mental health crisis that affects both students and faculty alike,” LCOOC President Dr. Russell Swagger said in a statement. “Tribal colleges like LCOOC have felt this pain more acutely than other institutions — making it especially important that we meet the university community where they are and provide access to a diverse group of counselors. Uwill’s sophisticated platform and broad counselor team are enabling us to do just that.”
• The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians broke ground on the tribe’s first charter school in mid October, according to a report from Native News Online. Known as Endazhi-Nitaawiging (The Place Where It Grows), the charter school is tribally owned and aims to provide students with enhanced knowledge of Ojibwe language, culture, leadership and environmental stewardship. The tribe is funding the more than $8 million first phase of the project with American Rescue Plan Act funds to open a K-5 school. It will need to raise an additional $3.9 million to fulfill its plan to add space to accommodate an additional grade each year over three years to be able to serve students through 8th grade.