Lessons From “Jeopardy!” Champion James Holzhauer: A Case Study For Business Success In Indian Country?

By: Cole Bauman | Summer Intern | cole.bauman@procopio.com

shutterstock_533083360.jpgJames Holzhauer’s incredible 32-game win streak in the beloved quiz show, “Jeopardy!” ended on June 3rd, 2019.  Simply put, Holzhauer’s run turned the “Jeopardy!” world upside-down. He totaled $2,464,216 in winnings over 33 games. He won $131,127 in a single game. Astonishingly, his reign of trivia terror took the previous single-game scoring record and kindly relocated it to 17th place in the Jeopardy! history books when his run was finally complete.

The story behind Holzhauer’s success can be viewed as a lesson to present and future Native American entrepreneurs that in the face of an old challenge, those who possess a unique perspective can implement new strategies and shock the world with their success.

To win so thoroughly, Holzhauer had to play more aggressively than anyone in the game’s history.  He also had to think differently.  He moved from category to category, chose the most difficult questions on the board, and repeatedly wagered massively on “Daily Double” clues.

Holzhauer was a rare combination of potential, perspective, and preparation. He received his degree in mathematics, but spent his college days building a bankroll in online poker. He later made a career in professional sports betting. For “Jeopardy!,” he prepared by reading a mountain of children’s picture books and mastered how to buzz-in from tips he found in an e-book titled, “Secrets of the Buzzer.”

Today, Native Americans own private businesses at the lowest rate of any racial group in the United States (Robert J. Miller, Reservation Capitalism 114 (2012)). In the game of entrepreneurship, not enough Native Americans are playing. Unfortunately, tribal members often have little or no access to the common methods of financing a business: home equity loans, family wealth, and unsecured loans. (Id.)

The truth is, however, that tribal entrepreneurs often have their own advantages. Many have a unique perspective arising from tribal membership that allows the insights non-Native entrepreneurs may lack. Native American entrepreneurs are more likely to apply subjective thinking to problem-solving, often described as “thinking with [your] heart.” Native American entrepreneurs have also been found to value community more than non-native entrepreneurs. (Id.) What values or perspectives could be better suited for the development of strong reservation economies?

Data tells us that potential Native American entrepreneurs often lack access to mentors, in part because they are less likely to have entrepreneurial parents. (Id.) However, Native Americans can find relief in knowing that inexperience isn’t always a liability, but in fact can be beneficial. Inexperience allows individuals to look at problems in new, holistic ways.

In 2014, we published a post on the topic of the inexperienced mind. The post discussed how the inexperienced person has the benefit of looking at problems without the burdens of, well, previous experience. Newcomers have the rare opportunity to see old problems in a new light and attack them in innovative ways. On some occasions, this allows for the creation of solutions that are both new and superior.

For Native Americans interested in pursuing or mastering business ownership, it’s especially crucial to lean on community for strength. Former Procopio Summer Intern Aaron Fournier is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and has taken his own unique approach in business by co-founding Native American Hemp.

As a young Native American entrepreneur, Fournier has leaned on community primarily by networking and seeking the assistance of business mentors, all while studying to receive his law degree. Fournier has since received his Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law and is preparing to sit for the state’s Bar Examination. When Fournier’s entrepreneurial acumen became apparent, his mentors became his business partners. Now, Native American Hemp is a majority Native American-owned business partnering with tribes, tribal members, and farmers to cultivate industrial hemp crops. Native American Hemp is also working to develop proprietary genetics and hemp-based products in partnership with tribes and tribally-owned businesses. Fournier’s company will utilize resources such as the Native American Agricultural Fund, Opportunity Zones, and the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program to spur a new wave of economic development in Indian Country.

Recently, a Huffington Post article highlighted the community efforts to rebuild the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge reservation, one of the poorest locations in the United States. The piece highlighted Alan Jealous, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and co-owner of Thikaga Construction. Jealous is responsible for managing the construction of more than a dozen of the homes set to be built as part of a 34-acre development project currently underway on the reservation.

A dedicated worker and family man, Jealous is also self-effacing. He acknowledges that he may not be an owner of a construction company if not for the support of Thunder Valley CDC, a community-based nonprofit. The members of the Oglala Lakota Nation currently face unemployment rates of 75%, but Jealous was able to take extra online courses to learn to manage Thikaga Construction after earning a degree in General Construction. Thunder Valley CDC’s mission is to empower Lakota youth and families, and it has resources to support those like Jealous who are aligned with that mission.

When someone is uniquely prepared for a task, the result can be success beyond anyone’s expectations. James Holzhauer proved this by side-stepping the “Jeopardy!” blueprint and playing by his own rules. Business-minded Native Americans should celebrate the fact that they too can create their own unique path to success.  Moreover, they should trust that even in difficult situations, their communities will support them.

If you are a Native American interested in beginning a business, please refer to the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program website. The 8(a) Program helps minority owned businesses become independently competitive through specialized business training, counseling, and marketing assistance – key tools for the success of any business.

Cole Bauman Headshot

Cole Bauman is a Procopio Summer Intern and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  He recently completed his second year at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he served as treasurer for the ASU Native American Law Students Association.

 

Procopio_Griswold_Theodore_Bio PhotoTed Griswold is head of Procopio’s Native American Law Practice Group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle.  Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

DISTRESSED TRIBAL COMMUNITIES (PROMISE) ZONED TO A BETTER FUTURE

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By: Kele Bigknife | Intern | bigknife@umich.edu

Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

The Promise Zone Initiative was launched under the Obama administration in January 2014 to designate and aid a number of high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  A community seeking designation was tasked with detailing how the Promise Zone designation would help accelerate and strengthen the community’s efforts for revitalization.  Selection as a Promise Zone partners the community with federal government liaisons to help the community gain a competitive advantage in applying for federal grants and loans, and to streamline the federal bureaucracy.  The goals of the program include boosting economic activity and job growth, leveraging private investment, expanding educational opportunities, and the secondary benefit of reducing violent crime.

The third and final round of selections for Promise Zone Communities was announced earlier this summer, and two tribes are among the nine additions.  The Spokane Tribe of Washington and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota join the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota (second-round admits), and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (first-round admits) as “Promise Zone” communities.

The Promise Zone’s tag-line reads “a child’s zip code should never determine her destiny.”  The effects of being raised in an impoverished community historically correlates to the child’s odds of graduating high school, her health outcomes, and her lifetime economic opportunities.  Many tribal areas have seen the devastating effects of poverty, and have suffer from a lack of housing, jobs, health services, and educational opportunities.  However, with the help of the Promise Zone program, hope has returned to some of these communities.

Moreover, the program works.  The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is one of the oldest tribal communities in the US, and has seen some areas of its reservation at a poverty rate of nearly 52%. After receiving the Promise Zone designation, the tribe has received close to $100 million in federal investments that have funded new affordable housing, a health clinic, child development programs, a community center, and rural development projects that have provided some citizens with access to potable water for the first time.  Additionally, the Choctaw Nation has secured $21 million in New Markets Tax Credits to build an environmentally sustainable steel manufacturing facility, which will support approximately 300 new jobs in the region.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe once faced poverty rates higher than 49% of their population, and has seen similar economic advances as the Choctaw Nation since being designated a Promise Zone.  The reservation has expanded access to high-speed internet, built water and sewage infrastructure within the community, and supported an after school meal program through the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.

With these Promise Zone tribal success stories, the future appears brighter for The Spokane Tribe of Washington and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.  Some of the proposed plans for these tribes include creating jobs through investments in renewable energy, constructing affordable houses, establishing technology centers and regional food hubs, and reducing crime by updating law and order codes and community policing strategies.

If you are a tribal official or member of a distressed tribal community who missed out on this round of the initiative, there are still many ways to benefit from the program.  The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website maintains a comprehensive list of federal grant opportunities for distressed communities.  Communities who did not receive Promise Zone designations are welcome to apply for any of these grants and work toward their own, more promising future.

Kele Bigknife is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and is in his third year at the University of Michigan Law School. He is a member of the Editorial Board for the Michigan Business and Entrepreneurial Law Review. Kele is a recipient of the 2016 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

Indigenous San Diego App Launches at 72nd NCAI Conference

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By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

As the Native American Practice Group leader at Procopio, I work in the community with strong, thoughtful leaders who are on the frontlines of self-governance and defining the contours of sovereignty nationally and internationally.  It is from this place that Procopio works in partnership with the Maataam Naka Shin and Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association (SCTCA) to release a first-of-its-kind mobile application designed to raise interest and awareness about San Diego’s Indigenous museums, exhibits, businesses, lands and public sites of interest. This app can lead to increased understanding of indigenous communities, greater economic self-determination and empower tribally-owned businesses by connecting residents and visitors to the City of San Diego with Native places of interest in our community.

And it couldn’t come at a better time. The free app, called Indigenous San Diego, premieres this week at the 72nd National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Convention and Marketplace where more than 4,000 participants from the 567 tribal governments are expected to attend.  While its initial release will be focused on the NCAI Convention, the app will have much broader appeal, and it will continue to grow in both scope and in its use.

We will be at the Marketplace in Booth 106 to explain more about the Indigenous San Diego app and provide assistance on how to download it.  We would love to meet you and hear of your ideas and what you would like to read about in upcoming Blogging Circle posts.

We are extremely proud to be part of this exciting initiative in which we leverage technology to increase public awareness and understanding of historic and current actions of Tribal communities, and in doing so, further knowledge about this vital part of the San Diego culture and economy.

The mobile app can be downloaded on Procopio’s website here.   Features connect users to:

  • Tribal museums
  • Cultural trails and landmarks
  • Public museums with indigenous exhibits
  • Tribal-owned businesses
  • Tribal lands
  • Higher education

Griswold 2013Ted is the leader of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. He works to connect tribal leaders in the community and create spaces for community development and economic empowerment in Indian Country in his practice. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.