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.

Cole Memorandum Provides Less Security for Tribes than Initially Anticipated


By: Gabriela Rios | Law Clerk | gabriela.rios@procopio.com
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Tribes who have attempted to pursue cannabis cultivation and have taken steps necessary to avoid the eight enforcement priorities of the Cole Memorandum are finding out that those eight priorities are not deterring federal enforcement to the extent anticipated. In April 2015 article 40 Questions Tribal Governments Should Consider When Discussing Whether to Undertake a Cannabis Business, the blog included this question: “Does Department of Justice (DOJ) Policy Statement mark a permanent shift in policy that you can rely on?” Recent raids in Indian Country may answer that question in the negative.

It is well understood that the Cole Memorandum did nothing to legalize marijuana cultivation on Indian reservations. However, its intent seemed to put tribes on an equal footing with the states in terms of the DOJ’s hands-off approach for certain operations, while diverting federal resources to those operations that pose more significant threats to public health and safety, such as those that involve or fund criminal organizations.

Rather than limit discretionary enforcement, the Cole Memorandum is being used as a basis for enforcement.  Several tribes have attempted to cultivate marijuana for recreational use or even industrial hemp for research purposes, only to be confronted with significant opposition by federal and state authorities. Most recently, the federal government raided the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin for allegedly growing marijuana, despite the tribe’s insistence it was growing industrial hemp in accordance with the Farm Bill of 2014. Whether it was marijuana or hemp, the raid offers insight into the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) concerns regarding marijuana cultivation on reservations and the effect, if any, of the Cole Memorandum.

Despite tribes’ best efforts to comply with the Cole Memorandum, DEA officials seem willing to stretch those enforcement priorities to encompass any conceivable scenario, giving them the broadest possible interpretation, and raising doubts about the purpose and effectiveness of the memorandum. DEA officials pointed to two priorities under the Cole Memorandum within the affidavit in support of the warrant to search the Menominee operation. The first was a reference to health and safety concerns stating: “All points of ventilation were closed except the front door which Brian Goldstein advised that it needs to stay shut. Workers hanging up the green leafy substance up in the drying facility had no protective equipment on nor had breathing apparatus. This is a health and safety concern for the community and individuals associated with the operation, which is in violation of one of the enumerated priorities listed in Cole Memorandum regarding adverse public health concerns of marijuana cultivation.” The application of the Cole Memorandum Priorities to worker health and safety is surprising considering the priority actually reads: “preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use.”

The second priority identified was “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where marijuana is legal in some form to other states.” Relying on this priority, the DEA officials repeatedly pointed out that the consultant for the operation was a white, non-tribal member from Colorado. According to the DEA, his non-native status and his Colorado citizenship triggered the Cole Memorandum priority “regarding the diversion of marijuana from states where marijuana is legal in some form to other states, [in] this case Wisconsin where marijuana cultivation is illegal in all forms.”

The rationale for the search and seizure creates additional questions for tribes considering cannabis cultivation: Must they only hire Native Consultants and/or must those consultants be from a state where marijuana is legal in some form to avoid enforcement action by the DEA? What standards of health and safety for workers should be followed? The uncertainty of enforcement action has led one tribe, the Flandreau Sioux Tribe, to suspend its operation—burning its crop rather than risk a raid by federal law enforcement.

The DOJ Policy Statement is part of a larger discussion on the legalization of cannabis and hemp. It application, however, should be seen for what it is­—a prioritization of enforcement. As such, it is important for tribes to be aware of the evolving standards and applications of the Cole Memorandum Priorities by federal law enforcement to better assess the potential risk to the tribe and to protect future cannabis ventures.

Gabriela is a citizen of the Cahuilla Band of Indians and currently clerking for Procopio. She graduated from the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in 2015 and is awaiting July California bar results.

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

Beware of Illicit Marijuana Grown on Tribal Lands

By: Hazel Ocampo | Associate | hazel.ocampo@procopio.com
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com


Tribal lands are in danger of becoming the target for illicit marijuana grows, which may expose Tribes to hefty fines. Last year, the state of California experienced a massive growth of marijuana cultivation by illicit operations on public forest and park land.

In response, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 165, authorizing severe civil fines against unauthorized marijuana grows causing damage to land managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal agencies. The law recognizes that illicit marijuana grows lead to water theft and resource degradation. Last year, illicit marijuana growers diverted 5 million gallons of water from rivers and streams, introduced toxic pesticides, and caused the unauthorized discharge of waste into state waterways.

The new law attempts to curtail the harmful environmental consequences resulting from illicit marijuana grow sites. The law permits fines of up to $40,000 for the illegal dumping of hazardous materials into rivers or streams, and up to $10,000 for the unlawful diversion or obstruction of streams or rivers in connection to illicit marijuana grows. These fines will be assessed by courts and by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

So what does this have to do with Native American lands? Potential unintended consequences with steep fines looming for illicit cultivation on state public lands, growers will be looking for a new “safe haven” to grow their product. In many instances, they may be looking at tribal lands as that “safe haven,” which can be a significant detriment to an unknowing tribal community. The best defense for tribal governments is awareness, diligence and the creation of their own protective measures so that illicit growers can be efficiently expelled.

Hazel is an Associate on the environmental team at Procopio as well as an active member of Procopio’s Native American Practice Group. Her practice focuses on environmental law, including climate change, clean technology and sustainability. Hazel regularly assists state and federal government agencies on project permitting involving the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). She also represents businesses and individuals on permitting, compliance and enforcement matters under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Superfund and the Endangered Species Act.

Ted 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.