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LAS VEGAS — More than 4,500 attendees packed the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) in Las Vegas last week, breaking previous participation records. 

Organized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the four-day event tackled non-gaming economic development in Indian Country, emphasizing collaboration under the theme "Strength in Unity."

The 2024 summit brought together tribal leaders, federal officials, tribal enterprise executives, Native entrepreneurs, and several Indigenous celebrities from the film, television and fashion worlds.

More than 500 speakers participated in more than 100 sessions, including business development workshops, matchmaking events, and educational panels. The “Buy Native” matchmaking program connected small Indigenous businesses with potential buyers from government agencies and major corporations.

Chris James, CEO of The National Center, highlighted the importance of unity in his address to the attendees. “We all have a pretty good understanding of what strength is, but let’s reflect on the concept of unity. It’s more than just a word, it’s a force,” James said, emphasizing collective endeavors as the key to achieving lasting success, drawing upon historical examples of Native American triumphs.

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Federal participation at the Summit was significant, with agencies leveraging the event to announce nearly a quarter-billion in funding for small-business lending, clean energy, tribal broadband and water infrastructure. Senior federal officials including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Treasurer Chief Marilynn Malerba (Mohegan), and Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland (Bay Mills) spoke to attendees during general sessions. 

Administrators from two federal agencies heavily involved in Native contracting — the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) — addressed attendees during fireside chats with The National Center’s James. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman and GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan also took time to speak one-on-one with Tribal Business News about growth in federal contracting among Native-owned businesses, as well as looming threats that could derail that growth.   

The agenda prioritized access to capital, federal contracting opportunities, and clean energy solutions. Additionally, in-depth sessions covered accounting, finance, and marketing, providing attendees with opportunities to earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits.