- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

NEW TOWN, N.D. (AP) - Some American Indian business owners say they’re on the verge of going under because they can’t compete with other Native American businesses that essentially are fronts for non-Indian companies operating on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Under federal rules, tribal companies and members have preference for work on tribal lands. As the oil business on the western North Dakota reservation has boomed - production has reached nearly 300,000 barrels per day - so has demand for jobs affiliated with the oil industry.

“The work, it doesn’t get any better,” Charles Foote, administrator of the Tribal Employment Rights Office, told The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1g0tQZn ).

But some American Indian businessman such as Steve Kelly, who runs an oilfield services company, think as many as 20 Native American-owned companies are operating unfairly on the reservation.

“I have all kinds of trucks sitting because of this,” he said.

The biggest problem is Native American-owned companies that own one truck but lease a much larger number from a non-Native company, he said.

“I’m not against tribal members making some money and leasing comparable to what they own. But it can’t be ‘own one truck and have 100 under them,’” Kelly said. “They should have skin in the game.”

Frank delaPaz, coordinating officer for the Tribal Employment Rights Office, said it is apparent that local companies can’t compete with the established companies with decades of experience that have arrived from primarily southern oil-producing states.

“At TERO, we allowed these lease agreements so they could become competitive,” he said.

Businessman Coby Little Soldier said his trucking business got off to a great start two years ago but now has seen millions of dollars’ worth of work shrink to the point where he’s worried about making payroll.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” he said.

Tribal Employment Rights Office Deputy Director Dewey Hosie said companies that are complaining were once in the same situation.

“They started with one truck and leased others until they had enough to buy their own equipment, and now they don’t like it,” Hosie said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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