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Thinking outside the box: Shoshones rely on intellectual resources to grow an economy

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 27 2006 9:26 a.m. MDT

Bruce Parry, left, and Mike Devine stand in front of a home in the So-So-Goi Meadows, a housing development for qualified tribal members in Ogden.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

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Fourth in a five-part series

BRIGHAM CITY — Shoshone legend suggests that Itsappe — Old Coyote — disguised in a shredded juniper wig, stole fire from a distant desert tribe and brought it north to the Bear River Valley.

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation today has no reason to steal. It caught fire on its own. The tribe expects revenues this year from its numerous business enterprises to hit $10 million.

It's a large figure for a band of 464 that only a few years ago had nothing.

"We started out zero," said tribal leader Bruce Parry, CEO and chairman of the board of the NWB Shoshone Economic Development Corp.

"We did not have even a penny to start."

The Northwestern Shoshone tribe, based in Brigham City, does not have a reservation, though it owns some land and is trying to acquire more.

With essentially no land base in Utah, the Northern Band of the Shoshone has relied on intellectual resources and creativity to grow an economy.

Creative economic development includes foreign language translations for the FBI, CIA and other government agencies; construction companies; and energy development. Tribal leaders want to train their young people to take over these enterprises.

And the tribe has big plans for the property it is amassing, including an industrial park, an interpretive center, a travel plaza and a casino resort just across the border in Idaho.

One of its more ambitious projects is a mixed-use development in a former Shoshone community 50 miles north of Brigham City called Washakie. The town died out during the World War II era. The new Washakie would include housing, schools, medical facilities and a business park.

All told, the tribe's proposals exceed $340 million.

Outside the box

Lacking natural resources, the Shoshones began "asset mining," or looking for something to capitalize on.

"What we've had to do is think out of the box," said chief operating officer Mike Devine. "That's why we've been successful with some of those more resourceful things."

Recognizing that Utah has many speakers of foreign languages, the tribe settled on translation services. It secured a federal contract and top-secret clearance to provide translation for agencies in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Sure enough," Devine said, "we struck gold."

Because of its tribal status, the Northwestern Shoshone gets special consideration through the Small Business Administration for federal contracts. The government reserves a percentage for historically disadvantaged people.

The Shoshones also now own a construction company doing dozens of government projects and an interior design firm specializing in LDS Church temples. The tribe also is working on biodiesel and geothermal power projects.

"We believe energy is going to be bigger than gaming ever was for the tribe," Devine said. (The Shoshone-Bannock tribe in Idaho operates a casino at Fort Hall.)

The business ventures don't necessarily provide jobs for Shoshones, but Parry said that's not the tribe's focus.

"Our main interest was to create wealth as well as train young people to take over the businesses we are operating," Parry said. Three of his grandsons are currently studying business in college.

Half of the revenues go back into the businesses. The other half is used for housing, health care, education and other services. The Shoshones do not issue royalty checks to individual tribal members as some tribes do.

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