Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures Hosts Inaugural Tribal Economy Summit, Announces Award Recipients

Grand Casino Mille Lacs

ONAMIA, MN – More than 100 of the region’s major economic development stakeholders gathered at Grand Casino Mille Lacs for the inaugural Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Summit to share dialogue on the local economy and award economic change makers. The summit, hosted by Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures and sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield Minnesota and the Entrepreneur Fund, celebrated the shared well-being and the success within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy. 

Open to all residents and entrepreneurs within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy, the summit featured presentations from business leaders including Neil Linscheid with UM Extension, Tawanna Black with the Center for Economic Inclusion, and Joe Nayquonabe with Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures.

Each presenter brought out interactive dialogue with participants related to making positive changes to reinvent rural communities, funding resources and availability, businesses’ role in a post-pandemic world, entrepreneurship within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy, and key strategies to activate diversity, equity, and inclusion while balancing the economic needs of the region. 

“Achieving economic growth, while at the same time addressing inequities, is necessary for our communities to be competitive on a larger scale,” said Joe Nayquonabe, CEO of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. “The summit provided a unique opportunity for our businesses and entrepreneurs alike to network and explore various resources and opportunities as it relates to changing the trajectory and drive equitable and inclusive development projects in our communities.”

To recognize influential leaders in the Mille Lacs tribal economy, five different awards were developed to honor individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in their rural communities. 

Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Awards & Recognition

  • The Babaamiziwinikewinini Award, which translates to Business Making Man (Entrepreneur of the Year) – Bradley Harrington of Wenji-Bimaadizing Media. Founded in 2019, Harrington and his incredible team of artists, programmers, designers, and educators bring Wenji-Bimaadizing Media to the forefront of the Indigenous Media Industry. 
  • The Babaamiziwinikekwe Award, which translates to Business Making Lady (Entrepreneur of the Year) – Adrienne Benjamin of Yo Adrienne B. Benjamin is a multi-faceted artist. Most recently, her work with Minnetonka Moccasins, and Coral and Tusk have helped both businesses develop plans for reconciliation, and an apology for their decades-long cultural appropriation.
  • The Eni-wiidookaazod Inini Award, which translates to The Helper Man (Community Partner) – Steve Hallan, Pine County Commissioner. From Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures’ work in affordable housing to ensuring community members have access to reliable and affordable broadband, Hallan is a champion. He has served for nearly 15 years as a Pine County commissioner and has served as board chair six times and vice chair two times.  
  • The Eni-wiidookaazod Ikwe Award, which translates to The Helper Lady (Community Partner) – Marge Agnew, Mayor of Onamia. Agnew supports and leads important conversations about affordable housing, entrepreneurship, and childcare in the city of Onamia. She supported Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures’ latest housing project, Red Willow Estates, and immediately went to work researching financing programs through her connections.
  • Eni-giikisijiged Award, which translates to forever situating things (Legacy Award) – Hank Bonga. Since the 1970’s, Hank Bonga has been working tirelessly to advance American Indians – from his work at American Indian Centers in Detroit and Chicago, to writing and receiving grants that supported programing for Native artists and housing for elders. Over the years, Bonga has aligned with a wide range of investors, including Corporate Express (now Staples), Foxwoods Development Company, Kenco Company, Excorp Medical, and 1Source Office and Facility Supply.  

“This year’s award recipients exemplify ingenuity and leadership that have helped their local communities become stronger and more resilient,” said Dustin Goslin, VP of Business & Economic Development for Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. 

The Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Summit will return in May 2023. Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures has made a five-year commitment to continue the conversation around the regional economy with regional stakeholders.