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Three tribal holding companies have partnered to create a new, jointly-owned real estate, construction, and property management company.

The formation of Aki Construction LLC brings together Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corporation, which manages non-gaming investments for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians; Mno-Bmadsen, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians’ non-gaming company; and Gun Lake Investments, the non-gaming investment arm of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, or Gun Lake Tribe. 

The partners told Tribal Business News the new company is the first such tribal joint venture in the Midwest.

A broader cultural and business lens can help the newfound partners create something bigger than the sum of its parts, said Mno-Bmadsen CEO Julio Martinez.

“Together, we’re much more powerful than we are divided,” Martinez said. “From my perspective, I think it’s long overdue. We have different talents and that diversity of thought is really important.”

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Aki Construction plans to announce its first projects by “year’s end,” said Odawa Holdings’ executive director Shanna Shananaquet. She said some of the projects could involve pulling existing investments by the three holding companies under the umbrella of the joint venture. 

Experience with those non-gaming real estate investments, such as Gun Lake Tribe’s partnership with Waséyabek Development Company, owned by Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, to acquire the 18-story McKay Tower in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., or acquisitions under Mno-Bmadsen real estate subsidiary Red Tail Properties, made the construction and property sector a good fit for an initial partnership, Martinez said. 

“It seems like that’s the common thread right now,” Martinez said. “This seemed like the area with the most common ground that we can move the quickest on.” 

Aki Construction could help meet the partners’ need for management for their own projects as well as create a new revenue stream for all three tribes amid an Indian Country-wide push for economic diversification in the wake of COVID-19, he said. 

“Our understanding is that there’s going to be a lot of value here, not just for our own projects and tribes, but beyond into other tribes and even non-tribal entities, too,” Martinez said. “There’s been this discussion over the past year of our own development needs and just interest in the management industry overall. It all kind of fell into place.”

Shananaquet said building off of partner companies’ wide array of previous experiences and projects would help Aki improve on successful strategies and avoid familiar potholes.

“Each one of us has looked at different things within our investments and sectors and we’ve learned from each other what not to do, and what to do,” Shananaquet said. “We looked at what we could offer each other and what kind of projects we have on the table, and we asked each other how to create value in building bridges and partnerships.”

GLI CEO Monica King echoed that sentiment, pointing to how quickly the three partners managed to pull Aki Construction together. They began talks in late July that culminated in a mid-November announcement of the firm’s formation. 

“I think what we’ve been through as tribal business leaders, and with these shared thoughts on how to govern and properly structure this, that’s really allowed us to come together quickly and in a really collaborative manner,” King said. “Being as like-minded as we are, I think we’ve had a good basis to start from, and that’s going to lead to a situation where one plus one isn’t two, it’s more than that.”

The three tribal holding companies have discussed possibly expanding their partnerships in the future, Shananaquet said. Aki Construction could be the basis for other joint ventures between the partners going forward. 

“Now is the time to rev up the war machine, so to speak, and bring forward our economic development efforts,” she said. “It’s been a big push within our tribal communities to build on our development, diversity, and above all unity. Now it’s time to really take advantage of that.

“We’re always sharing ideas. That’s a constant thing in Indian Country. I think what we’re trying to do here is take all of those ideas into a holistic approach and put them all together into a nice little package to move forward as tribes and partners.”

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About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News focusing on Native entrepreneurship, small business development, and the gaming industry. Based in Tulsa, Okla., Oxendine was previously a contributing writer for Native News Online, and his journalism has been featured in the Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, Source Magazine and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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