When many people think of a Native American tribe going from rags to riches, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a large, money-making casino. But that is not the case as demonstrated by the tribally-owned Cedar Band Corporation.
In southwest Utah where the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and the Mojave Desert converge sits the 2,200-acre reservation of the Cedar Band of Paiute. The tribe is demonstrating to the world, tribal big business can be extremely profitable while also serving as a contributor to the community.
At first, the location of the tribe might not seem ideal, their land stretches from south-central to the southwest part of the state. “It’s pretty sparse when it comes to natural resources. In fact, it’s non-existent of natural resources. Not a lot of hunting; not a lot of opportunity for band members,” said Paul Terry, who has been president and chief executive officer of Cedar Band Corporation for the past five years.
The Cedar Band is one of five distinct bands of the Southern Paiute. It is headquartered in Cedar City, Utah, which is 5,600 feet above sea level. The Cedar Band of Paiutes did not receive formal recognition until 1980 with congressional passage of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act. Since that time, the tribe has been on a trajectory of success.
“It’s been a tremendous growth track for us over the last five years specifically, but really over the past 10 years,” said Terry. “We’ve been tremendously blessed – we’ve prospered. We’ve been able to provide jobs for band members locally. We’ve also been able to diversify our portfolio of operating companies from purely defense and government contracting entities to more private sector companies.”
“I believe [the cooperation] really has created a difference in the lives of the membership and it will continue to increase the economic opportunities, the social and cultural opportunities – the quality of life for all of our band members here in Cedar City,” said Cedar Band member Laurel Yellowhorse, who has lived her whole life “in Cedar.” She also serves on the band council as vice chairwoman and on the corporation's board of directors.
Cedar Band Enterprises was founded in 2002. They employ people in 14 different states. This includes their government contract employees. CBE’s successor-in-interest, the CBC, was launched in 2012. CBC is a federally-chartered tribal corporation and runs an array of companies.
“We’ve got a convenience store. We are building a full-service travel plaza on I-15. We have a distribution company of high-end, personal hair care products – we supply those to our band members at a steeply discounted rate,” said Terry, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Utah and his law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law.
“We’ve got the only national Native American wine company. We’ve got some pretty high profile clients including Whole Foods and the National Museum of the American Indian. Cedar Bev. Co. is the sole distributor of wine at NMAI. And we have a mortgage company as well. We’ve chosen good industries to go into, and we’ve really prospered,” he said.
The Cedar Band was awarded their first government contract with Department of Interior in 2002. They were awarded their SBA 8a certification in 2003. They began getting more governmental contracts, primarily with the Department of Defense. Terry explained the tribe has been awarded almost $65 million in new government contracts in the past five years since he took over as CEO.
Vice chairwoman Yellowhorse says she is glad to see the tribe continuing to diversify and become more self-sufficient, which equates to less need for government contracts, though the tribe has admitted some government contracts have been an asset.
“I really enjoy working and being part of the band council – and supporting our band. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Yellowhorse. “We started to diversify and get away from just government contracts. We had to think outside the box about what other companies can help us so we’re not dependent on government contracts.
We’ve been able to increase services. I have personally seen the benefit to our band members when it comes to burials and funerals. So they are not stressed and not worried,” said Yellowhorse, who attends the University of Phoenix working towards her Bachelor of Science degree.
The band council provides distributions from CBC’s enterprises to sustain essential government functions, preserve and promote band culture and to expand a wide variety of programs that benefit band members.
The tribe also has a trading post, Suh’dutsing Staffing Services and technology companies Suh’dutsing Technologies, Suh’dutsing Telecom, and Suh’dutsing Aerospace.
“With CBC we’ve been able to really help our band members,” said Yellowhorse. ‘It’s been very, very rewarding and a learning experience for the people who have been able to see it fully set up to become profitable.”
Harlan McKosato is a former host of Native America Calling and has served as an adjunct professor of journalism at the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2005 McKosato was recognized by his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, as a “Distinguished Alumnus of the Gaylord College of Journalism.” He received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Mass Communications (Radio/TV/Film) from OU in 1988. Harlan is a citizen of both the United States and the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma.