In commemoration of Native American Heritage Month, Indian Country Executive Michael Garrow joins the OneHaas podcast to talk about his cultural heritage, his career, and his time at the Haas School of Business.
Michael is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in upstate New York and grew up on the reservation. After spending some time in an aviation career, he applied to Haas to get his MBA so he could give back to his community.
Michael and host Sean Li discuss what it was like growing up on a reservation, the current challenges facing Native American communities, and how Michael has been able to use his MBA to help his tribe economically.
*OneHaas Alumni Podcast is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*
Why he decided to change careers and get his MBA
“I just started wanting to learn more about the finance and operations side and help the tribes. That really was my passion was to be able to give back to the community. When I applied to Berkeley, that’s what I said I was going to do. And that’s what I had always done with the reservation is helping youth and trying to develop the economy of the tribe because there’s nothing really here. It’s economically depressed.”
How gaming changed the economic landscape for tribes
“It gave our parents jobs, or in my case, us jobs, so our children had somebody to guide. Meaning like, they could see like a career path… You can get a job in a casino, and you can go get your education. But what’s interesting with the Mohawks is a lot of people went to Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, back in the 1800s. So we are one of the most educated tribes, like reservations, where people have education. It’s a big part of our culture is getting your education. So growing up was tough because there was not much opportunity.”
How his generation keeps the next generation involved and connected to their culture
“I think a lot of that responsibility lies in the home with the parents and making sure they get out. For the Mohawks, a big part of our culture is the sports, you know, unplugging them and they’re involved in sports and they have a positive outlet rather than drugs, alcohol. So I think doing things with your children as they’re growing up. So when they’re teenagers, you have a relationship with them, so they’ll listen to you better.”
His advice to young Native Americans about the value of college
“I’ve talked to a lot of tribal youth and said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get in debt.’ And I would, almost like a spreadsheet, explain to them how it makes sense to get in debt for a university. How you would be better off. I always say, ‘Well, you can get your sneaker at Walmart or you can get a Nike sneaker. Which one has more perceived value? Well, the Nike does.’ And then go, ‘Well, that’s about education. You go to a top university, the top employers hire there. And so that’s why you need to work hard to get into these universities.’”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, I’m joined by Michael Garrow. Michael is a full-time MBA, class of ’94, and currently an Indian country executive. And this month, we’re celebrating Native American heritage month. Welcome to the podcast, Michael.
[00:30] Michael: Thank you very much for having me, Sean. I appreciate it.
[00:33] Sean: My favorite question starting out is tell us about yourself. Give our listeners your origin story.
[00:39] Michael: Well, I’m from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Upstate New York, in a place called Akwesasne, which means land where the partridge drums. Our territory got its name from the winter when the ice breaks right towards the spring, makes a loud noise. So, it’s not actually partridge drumming. It’s actually the noise. And in our language, we use metaphors. So, I grew up on the Mohawk Indian Reservation here.
We have our own elementary school called the St. Regis Mohawk School. Attended that school. Attended high school. And while I was here, I started out in tribal gaming, doing a couple jobs in construction, building the first casinos, and helping family out. We’re very close ties to our community. We’re in the Mohawk Valley, that’s where it got its name from, in New York.
And as the Americans came around the areas where the Mohawks lived, started encroaching the land, the women and children weren’t safe. So, the men moved the families up to Montreal. And where most of us come from in Akwesasne is called Caughnawaga. It’s near Montreal. And at one point, a group left and came southwest and formed Akwesasne. And it’s called the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe because some of the tribal members followed the Jesuit priests and became Christians.
[02:11] Sean: Wow.
[02:12] Michael: So, my family, we’re actually talking about origins. We’re the leaders of the tribe. We’re the chiefs. And so, we have been here since about 1755. And my grandfather was a tribal clerk back in the ’60s and ’70s. My father was a sub-chief. And then I worked for the tribe as well in several different roles, helping the tribe in entrepreneurship and with its tribal government.
[02:41] Sean: Well, that’s really interesting. Michael, I do have to ask, did you start working with the tribe before or after your MBA?
[02:53] Michael: Well, good question. Actually, both. In 1982, the tribe was building its first Class II gaming facility, which is bingo. Before, they had Class III, which is the slots. And they were putting it in a building. And my dad was putting in the concrete work for the building. And I was helping him. And then it was a Quonset hut. And they were putting the bolts in the building, and they need somebody light enough to go up to the top, so they asked me to do it.
So, that was my first job in 1982 working with the tribe. And then after undergraduate, I had the opportunity to apply to Cal Berkeley. And once I got accepted, I came back the summer before I started my first year. And I worked for the in-tribal finance. I worked for the accounting department for the tribe.
And then post-graduate school, I did some work for the casino. I was the general manager for the Class II Mohawk Bingo Palace for a couple of times. I was the CFO for the tribe. And then I also did the business plan for the tribe’s Class III gaming facility, which was full slots, hotel, everything.
[04:09] Sean: I guess the reason I asked you that question was because I noticed on your resume, you went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and you got a degree in Aviation Business Administration. What happened there? And how did you not end up going into aviation?
[04:28] Michael: The short answer is that I actually did go in aviation. The longer answer is out of 120 people that interviewed for a landside operations supervisor at the greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which ran the Orlando international Airport, I got the job. And I was a supervisor on the landside of the terminal. And then I was getting promoted to the air side.
And so, one of the guys said, “Do you realize what you’re going to be doing over there? And you’re over where the airplanes are and everything.” So, one day, I asked a couple of the guys working over there if they’d show me around and just job shadow. And they go, “Sure. We’d love to, Michael.” So, one day, we jumped in the truck. And they go, “You’re just going to love this. This is the best part of our job.”
So, we went driving around. And they’re like, “All right. One of the planes hit the deer. It’s like deer strikes all the time.” So, we’re throwing deer into the back of this four-wheel drive suburban. And they go, “Well, just wait what happens, Michael.” So, next thing you know, we’re driving in the back to these swamps. And they go, “Okay, we got to make it quick. We’re going to throw these deer carcasses and the alligators come running after them.”
So, they throw these deer carcasses. And we’re running for our life. These alligators are coming after them. And we take off. So, after contemplating, I thought, “This isn’t really what I had in mind for a career.” And so, it’s interesting that Cal Berkeley actually put a posting in the Akwesasne Mohawk Cultural Center, it’s a library that we have here, that they were looking for tribal members, people from Native descent, to apply to the university.
So, I thought with the proliferation of gaming, tribes were starting to get into gaming more, I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore writing a business plan for a casino. And actually, at Cal, I actually did my thesis on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was passed in 1988. And what that did was Congress said, “Okay, we’re going to regulate gaming. And here are the rules.” So, I did that.
And then Professor Freeman had an entrepreneurship class. So, I utilized that as well to take advantage of developing a business plan for a casino. So, I literally went from aviation to a focus on gaming. But here’s the twist. Some Haas alumni were involved in a startup called Iwerks Entertainment. And it was a helicopter simulator tour.
And they asked me, they said, “With your aviation background and your operations background, you’d be a great candidate for being this CEO general manager of our first flight center in Maui, Hawaii.” So, I applied for this job. And I got it. And so, it was a startup. I was involved in setting it up at the Hyatt Regency. And I think it was the first week we opened. There was two plane… or two helicopter crashes.
But what’s interesting about Maui is it’s the number one place in the world for helicopter tours. So, that’s why they opened this. But it was so realistic that it made people sick. So, I ended up closing it down after a year. It was a joint venture with Iwerks Entertainment out of Burbank. Don Iwerks did a lot of the simulators for Walt Disney. So, it was a great opportunity to use my entrepreneurship.
I minored in entrepreneurship and finance, so it was a great opportunity, but what happened after I closed that down is it brought me back to the reservation. And then from there, one day, the tribal chairman knocked on the door. He lived across the street from me. He says, “Michael, I heard you can do a business plan for a casino.” And I said, “You bet. I can do that.” And he says, “Well, we’ll hire you.” And I’m thinking, “Hey, this is a great way to pay off my student loans.”
[08:26] Sean: That’s really interesting. I have two questions. Why helicopter simulator tours in Hawaii, of all places, where you’re saying they have actually real helicopter tours? And then the second thing which predates you going to your undergrad is what was your fascination with aviation?
[08:48] Michael: Well, as far as the aviation, our reservation is about an hour and a half southwest of Montreal and then southeast of Ottawa. And they have tons of planes coming in and out as an international airport. So, the flight pass would come across, and I’d see those planes flying up in the air. And I thought it would be interesting to manage an airport.
There’s a lot of things going on with them, and I got some information from the university, and I also did the Lake Placid Ironman a couple times, and was into running and biking, and I was windsurfing. So, the campus is in Daytona Beach so I thought I really want a place where I can go. I want to focus in aviation, airport management, but also it was a place with the beach where I could train and do triathlons. Those were my hobbies.
So, it was just the whole life-work balance. And I actually got a job at the Daytona beach regional airport. I was one of the youngest employees there. First, I worked for Eastern Air Lines. They went out of business. But the next day after they closed, one of the skycaps said, “Hey, Michael, you know all the airport codes, right?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And he goes, “Tell me a few.” And I did.
And he goes, “You know, we got Daytona 500. We got spring break. We got all these things going on.” He goes, “You’ll make far more than you did checking people in and, you know, dealing with irate customers with canceled flights.” So, I was a skycap making $300 a day, checking people’s bags in on Delta for their business flights.
So, that’s what gave me that aviation background to get that job later on in Orlando airport. And everybody was asking me, “How’d you get that job?” So, it was a fascinating career while it lasted, but then I just started wanting to learn more about the finance and operations side and help the tribes.
That really was my passion was to be able to give back to the community. When I applied to Berkeley, that’s what I said I was going to do. And that’s what I had always done with the reservation is helping youth and trying to develop the economy of the tribe because there’s nothing really here. It’s economically depressed.
[11:14] Sean: It’s interesting you bring that up because I think one of the harder things for me to grasp, first, as an immigrant to this country and now as a citizen of this country, is the lack of understanding of the original people here on this land, and also the diversity of the original peoples on this land.
What was it like growing up as a Native American in this land that was originally your people’s land? But you had this feeling like you had to go back and help them as if you’re a foreigner in this land. What is it like growing up as a Native American?
[11:57] Michael: Well, every reservation is different. There’s no cookie-cutter approach. The Mohawks are part of the original Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy. So, we’re on the Eastern doorkeepers. And most of the tribes in New York within the six… there’s six nations, five original, those original treaties were made with the Dutch and the French and English. And our land is actually split in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
So, Akwesasne proper is actually consists of the Mohawks on Cornwall Island, which is part of Ontario in Canada, the Mohawks in snye and St. Regis, which is Quebec, the province of Quebec in Canada. And then in the United States, in upstate New York, you have we call the Southern portion, because we’re actually south of that line through the river. So, the war of 1812 actually split United States and Canada along that river.
So, growing up here was difficult in that within our people, there’s different funding sources. There’s from Quebec, from Ontario, from New York, from Canada, and the U.S. federal grants interstate and provincial grants. Traditionally, people fished and farmed, but General Motors and Reynolds and several major multi-corporations built right on the borders of the reservation and polluted the water with PCBs.
The largest Superfund site in the United States is right on our reservation. And so, you’re allowed to eat maybe one fish per year. So, that decimated the fishing and touring industries. And so, a lot of people didn’t have work. Traditionally, I don’t know if you knew, but Mohawks built New York, Chicago, the skylines, our ironworkers. So, a lot of people went and worked, did iron, and they call it doing iron, and come back on the weekends.
There wasn’t a lot of economic development. So, you look for arbitrage opportunities, whether it’s in fuel, selling gas tax-free, or cigarettes tax-free. So, it wasn’t a lot of industry or business here. So, growing up, it was difficult. For myself, we were subsistence farmers, meaning we planted all our food. We had a couple of cows. We had goats. We had pigs. We had chickens, ducks. I had a horse.
We grew up on a farm, and most people did back then, but things changed as different careers, I guess, with the tribe. Additional funding came in. There was a settlement with GM, so we got some funding from that. But the main thing was gaming. That was exciting for most tribes. What it really did was it gave our parents jobs, or in my case, us jobs.
So, our children had somebody to guide us, meaning they could see a career path, meaning you can get a job in a casino, and you can go get your education. But what’s interesting with the Mohawks is a lot of people went to Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell back in the 1800s.
So, we are one of the most educated tribes, reservations, where people have education. It’s a big part of our culture is getting your education. So, growing up was tough because there was not much opportunity. I mowed lawns, delivered the newspaper, pumped gas at one of the gas stations. It’s totally different now than it was then. There’s more jobs. There’s more opportunity.
[15:47] Sean: Thank you so much for sharing that because it’s honestly a perspective that it’s hard for me to even grasp, just thinking, all right, Native American people have been given small portion of their lands back. I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up on a land in a country that in, some ways, is foreign to you, both from a cultural perspective and economical even.
And then on top of that, similar to how countries in Africa or other places were carved up, it was just completely arbitrary with no regard at all to the local people and the tribes. To hear that half your tribe is in Canada, or half your lands are in Canada, too, I can’t even imagine what the politics around that are like as one tribe having to navigate now two different political systems or two different countries. That’s a lot to deal with.
[16:47] Michael: It’s interesting because a lot of times, you can pay in U.S. funds or Canadian funds. So, it’s important to know what the exchange rate is.
[16:57] Sean: That’s really funny. Wow. Okay. Sorry to sidetrack us a little bit, but I’m really glad we’re having this conversation. Native American art, crafts, music, storytelling, is very rich as I’ve grown up to know it. And it’s an integral part of your culture. Can you highlight some key artistic expressions and their significance that you’re aware of for a Mohawk culture at least?
[17:22] Michael: Yes. Well, a lot of people do beadwork. And I guess that’s primarily beadwork. And what the Mohawks are known for is their basket making. They pound logs, ash logs, and they split. And they make beautiful baskets out of these logs.
In fact, FDR, when he was the governor of New York State, him and Eleanor came to visit the reservation, and they named one of the towns Roosevelt Town after him because they gave a bunch of baskets and everything. But the baskets are world-renowned, so that’s a big part of our art. Also, I guess you can consider part of our culture is lacrosse. Six Nations developed lacrosse. And a lot of lacrosse sticks were made here, in fact, across the street.
Where I’m staying right now was an old lacrosse factory where they made the sticks out of wood. And they were made out of leather. And that was a big game. It’s called the Creator’s Game. And it was, a lot of times, to settle disputes, but to also honor the Creator and the Creator’s way. But the beadwork, a lot of people do the beadwork. And I’m not sure if you’re aware, but they have powwows and that is where people wear their regalia.
They have different colors that they wear. And a different regalia tells who they are and their story. And they dance at a powwow. And it’s in honor of the creator, in honor of the, particularly, the veterans that fought in all the different wars. Even though they weren’t citizens of the country, they fought. On behalf of the U.S., they fought. In my case, of my ancestors, they fought. They weren’t U.S. citizens.
So, they fought in the Canadian regiment of the… I think it was the Canadian army, the Scottish regiment of the Canadian army in World War I. But that’s our hearts and our culture. And that’s really important to everybody. And the art is passed on, the beadwork is passed on to grandmother, to mother, to daughter. So, a lot of times, the style is kept within that family. So, you would know if you saw a basket or certain beadwork, that’s their style. You know who made it.
[19:39] Sean: I guess on that note, I don’t know if you happen to know the current Mohawk population. And what’s being done to preserve this rich history and culture?
[19:49] Michael: Well, a big emphasis with most tribes now is maintaining not only the culture, but the language. And in Akwesasne, they actually just got a $3-million grant. And I just found out yesterday from one of the former chiefs of the tribe. He explained to me that a woman that was pretty wealthy from New York City donated some land to the Mohawk.
It was 50 years ago, but now they’re building a new what’s called the Mohawk Freedom School. And it’s fully speak the Mohawk language. They’ve had it for, I don’t know, probably 30 or more years already, but they’re building a new school. So, that’s helping maintain the language, the culture, the traditions.
We also do have longhouses here where you go for different ceremonies, and you learn about your culture there. Of course, you learn from your family. In Mohawk school and the high schools, they offer Mohawk language. But it’s really important, any language, that you have fluent speakers at home that can-
[20:53] Sean: Right.
[20:53] Michael: … help you learn that language. And the tribe has a lot of programs where we have what’s called socials. We have powwows, too, but Six Nations more has a social. And it’s in a longhouse. You have a water drum. It’s a small instrument. It makes a ping noise. And then you have people sitting on two benches near the drummer. And the dancers go around those two benches. And it’s men and women.
So, it’s a social. It’s how you meet other people. There’s four major clans. There’s a Turtle, Bear, Wolf, and Snipe. So, you can’t marry your same clan. So, you have to intermarry. But these socials help you get to know other people. They have men’s shuffle dance, women’s shuffle dance. They have different dances. Mohawks in Six Nations are really well known for the stomp dance.
It’s a pretty fast dance. They get out there and really go fast. But we have these cultural events. We have a lacrosse arena that we have for outdoors. You can play year round in there, but they also have cultural events in there, too, where they’re selling crafts or teaching crafts.
They have different things where the elders will teach us about the medicines, go out in the woods and pick different plants and what they’re good for, how to make baskets, how to make moccasins. So, they have a lot of these traditional things for people you sign up and you go. It’s like a class. And you learn about that. Whatever you don’t learn from your family, you can learn from other people.
[22:28] Sean: What do you see being threatened in terms of Native American heritage, culture, in today’s society or today’s world? And what are some things our listeners can do to support or help out?
[22:43] Michael: Well, I have a unique perspective because I’ve worked with different tribes throughout the U. S., particularly in economic development. And I think lately, what I’ve seen is people that the tribes are hiring are not diversifying the economy. And I think the greatest risk to the tribes, particularly out West, is that they are continuing to… say for example, they’re in gaming and they’re in hospitality, they’re branching out and purchasing casinos in Las Vegas or other markets.
And I think tribes are most at risk that are doing that because in ’08, ’09, when we had a financial crisis, if gaming gets hit again, the people that are having their tribes and convincing them to… not really diversifying, but going into other markets, they’re not diversifying at all. And that’s going to hurt the tribe.
Really what the tribe should be doing at is looking at other revenue streams that aren’t going to be impacted the same way hospitality is and doing things like perhaps farming to prepare. The story I use is Seven Years of Famine, Seven Years of Feasts. Like Egypt, they save their grain. And that’s what I think the tribes should be doing is farming. Because the tribes are different. Everybody is related. We’re all family. Our ancestors are buried here.
We need to prepare with food storage and doing different things like that, so if times hit bad, like COVID, we’re prepared for that better than we were during COVID. So, from the business perspective, because we have our MBAs, we think, okay, it should be diversifying into other revenue streams.
For some tribes, it’s purchasing stocks in the stock market. That’s how they’re doing passive investments. But what other things could they be doing to help strengthen their language, their culture? There are benefits there in just keeping, I guess, the pride and the strength of the people strong and just healthy. The main thing is keeping the people healthy and finding new opportunities.
What I can say is that the reason why tribes aren’t hiring necessarily tribal people for tribal management in the casinos is because the youth aren’t interested in doing that anymore. That’s not my generations underneath me. So, they’re looking for other opportunities. For example, my son, he went to Michigan State because they offered something when the director of the business program said, “How many are here to work in a casino?”
Nobody raised their hand. He said, “Exactly. You’re here to explore opportunities in corporate America.” So, that’s great. What are the opportunities in corporate America? Our tribe, we had an opportunity to do a patent deal with Allergan. And we actually did a leaseback deal where we own some of the patents. And that extended the patent life. And the tribe received a percentage of that patent revenue.
So, those are the type of opportunities that was on CNBC, new types of opportunities, but the real opportunity is finding partners, whether it’s on Wall Street or in the Middle East or Asia or even with China, where we partner in diversify our risk in doing new deals like that.
And some tribes, like Mohegan Sun, they’re doing that. They’re building casinos, but they’re in other countries. But isn’t there something more creative the tribes could be doing? Just because I do worry that that keeps me up at night is what happens if the gaming gets hit? It’s going to be worldwide.
And what are we left with?
[26:33] Sean: Hopefully, you know the answer to this, but I’d love to learn a little bit about the history of casino and gaming. How did this get started? Why gaming?
[26:45] Michael: Yes, I know I’m very familiar with the history. It was actually around the same time the Seminole Indians in Florida and the Cabazon tribe in California started up gaming. And there was a case that went to the United States Supreme Court in 1988 around that period of time where the tribes argued that they had the right to have gaming because they’re sovereign independent nations. And Florida and California said no.
The two tribes were supported by other tribes won the case in the Supreme Court. But then what happens under Constitution is Congress has the ability to regulate trade, the Intercourse Act, with the Indians. So, Congress said, “Okay, you won the case. You’re allowed to have gaming. We’re going to regulate it now.” So, in 1988, they passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
And what that act says is that if the state allows any form of gaming, whether it’s just buying lottery tickets or if it’s some type of bingo or anything, then the tribes can have it. And however, the tribes have to negotiate with the state and have a compact. And the States are to negotiate in good will.
So, throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the states, a lot of times, were not negotiating in good faith or good will. And some were really good. Minnesota were great. They gave the tribes good compact set into perpetuity. New York state, not so good. Mario Cuomo, I think, they were taking 25%-plus from our casino and Seneca’s and Oneida’s. And they still are.
Other tribes out in California, they got different compacts depending on the tribe, but they have a most favored status, meaning most favored nation status, meaning if one tribe negotiates a better deal, they all get that, that same deal. Then the other main issue was that the tribes needed money. They were economically depressed, so they needed to get loans for these casinos.
So, there were some initial banks like Marshall Miller & Schroeder that went out into the market and found ways to basically utilize the machines because the land itself is held in trust by the U.S. So, the banks can’t use the land for collateral, but they can use the free cash flow from the machines. So, that’s the way the banks were lending to the tribes.
And they literally would lend to tribes millions of dollars. And they would complete the building in the casino. And there was lines out the door. And they were already working on phase two. That’s how successful it was for years. So, the proliferation of gaming just spread across the United States. The only two states that don’t really have gaming in any form are Hawaii and Utah because they don’t allow any form of gaming within those states.
[29:44] Sean: And pardon me for this ignorant question, but I presume there are tribes across all 50 states?
[29:51] Michael: There are not any in Vermont, not in every state, but I used to know the number. At one time, it was about 567 different tribes in the United States. I know it’s higher than that now. I’m pretty sure, Vermont, there’s some tribes, but they’re not formally recognized by either the state or federal government because some of the tribes, tribal people had to go into hiding because there was termination orders.
[30:22] Sean: My next question is how can we ensure that Native American voices and perspectives are heard and respected in the broader conversation about culture diversity and heritage in the United States? Curious to hear your thoughts on that.
[30:35] Michael: Well, I think a lot of it is dependent on the families to make sure that their children are raised and get their education. I was taught by my family, get your education, learn how things are done on the outside, and bring your education back. So, a lot of responsibility, I think, lies within the families and individuals. But to get better communication, we have to be out there. The Mohawks have been leaders. A lot of tribal people are leaders.
So, we have to get out there. We have to be open minded to other people’s ideas and share ours as well. I think it’s really consensus building but giving our different perspective. It’s one of the reason I chose to go to school. Even though I grew up on the East Coast, I went out to the West Coast to get a different perspective. I went to undergrad East Coast, graduate school West Coast. My sister did the same just to get that different perspective.
But it’s really important to get out there and provide your input so people understand and do it in a way that is respectful, that they don’t know, don’t understand what we went through in our history. A lot of people don’t. They’re very ignorant about it. So, it is hard, but I’ve learned just if someone says something, say, “Hey, did you know this?” And take that approach to educate them. And then they’re like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know that.”
One of the biggest issues we have is the stereotypes that were developed by Hollywood and portrayal of Native Americans. They didn’t use Native people in the movies. They used other people from South America. The Indians didn’t even have shadows because they were considered less than human. So, with Dances with Wolves, some of those other movies.
Now, there’s a movie out right now about the Osage Nation and what happened to them. Hollywood is going to the tribes and getting more of a cultural appreciation and getting people to be involved in some of the filmmaking, so it portrays what really happened better.
[32:40] Sean: No, absolutely. And I think part of the reason I asked that question or thought that question is tying into another question I was asking earlier about the threats to Native American culture and heritage.
I’m actually curious what kind of challenges you see with the younger generation, especially the past decade with the rise of social media and just in general, technology distracting them in many ways that I see distracting the youth from even American culture, American heritage? I can’t imagine, or I’m trying to imagine what kind of impact that’s having on Native American tribes, and then how you keep them engaged with their culture and their people.
[33:28] Michael: I think a lot of that responsibility lies in the home with the parents and making sure they get out. For the Mohawks, a big part of our culture is the sports, unplugging them, and they’re involved in sports, and they have a positive outlet rather than drugs, alcohol. So, I think doing things with your children as they’re growing up so when they’re teenagers, you have a relationship with them, so they’ll listen to you better.
But everybody is having to deal with the social media. I have children as well. And it’s the same thing. But they do unplug, and they work out. I’ve emphasized education, sports, music, all the things you need to do to get accepted at a top university. I really stress on that. And they actually have some programs for high school students to help them write their essays and what they need to be doing.
And that’s the whole structure that I follow with my children is just getting out and doing all these things. If you’re on social media and don’t do music or sports, you’re not going to get into a top university. And then if you are refusing to do those things, what’s your plan? If you want to go into trade school, that’s fine.
We found out during COVID, a lot of the people that didn’t have jobs with their education, the people unplugging their power were the people that were in the trades and were doing quite well, construction. And so, it’s really about, okay, you have to do something with your career. If you’re not starting up a business related to social media, then you need to manage your time better.
But there are a lot of things that people are doing on social media with the art and culture that, I have to admit… They’re having fashion shows, broadcast them. We have what’s called Akwesasne TV that the tribe owns here. It was a startup.
And it’s actually under the tribe now because it is used for cultural events and for the language, for different community events, covering that. And it’s addressed this part of that. If you’re going to have focus on TV and social media, you’re going to be watching this, too.
[35:47] Sean: I like that a lot, basically turning the technology and leveraging it to spread the culture and the history and whatnots. That’s amazing. Michael, I’ve had you for quite a while. My last question is always is there anything that I forgot to ask you or is there anything that you want to talk about that you haven’t gotten a chance to talk about?
[36:08] Michael: Well, we talked a little bit about my career, but what I’m passionate about is helping the tribes. I don’t know if that came out in the interview. I’ve worked for several different tribes. But when I was at Cal Berkeley, I was the president of the American Indian Graduate Students. And one of the things that I had an idea about doing, and I should say our team did and I helped direct it, I was involved in dancing at powwows.
And there’s a huge powwow in New Mexico called the Gathering of Nations. And a lot of youth attend that. So, we set up a booth there with Stanford. I reached out to the MBAs at Stanford. And we recruited on behalf of Cal Berkeley and Stanford at Gathering of Nations to Indian youth. And so, one thing I’m really passionate about is trying to get tribal members to apply to Cal Berkeley. And not only just Cal, but any MBA, top MBA program.
And so, I was highly involved in that and different things on the cultural side. And we worked with the law students and public health and all across the university. So, it’s really those types of things, doing that, that I’m passionate about is the education. I’ve talked to a lot of tribal youth that said, “Oh, I don’t want to get in debt.” And I would, almost like a spreadsheet, explain to them how it makes sense to get in debt for a university, how you would be better off.
I always say, “Well, you can get your sneaker at Walmart, or you can get a Nike sneaker. Which one has more perceived value? Well, the Nike does.” And I go, “Well, that’s about education. You go to a top university. The top employers hire there. And so, that’s why you need to work hard to get in these universities.” That’s really where a lot of my passion lies, but where I really get the most gratitude, I guess, is when I go to conferences.
We have what’s called National Indian Gaming Association. It’s an association of all the tribal gaming. And I’ve worked, and I would see people at these conferences that give me a big hug and they say, “Thank you.” And it really is about mentoring and education for me. And that’s why I really focused my career. And I use all the things that I learned at Cal Berkeley, my entrepreneurship, my finance. I added to that background.
I worked in Bank of America. I worked in real estate development. Everything I did was related to helping the tribes. And I have a unique career in that I did that, and I worked around the country. But it’s all because I was able to get my MBA at Haas. And because Professor Freeman, who’s now passed on, he had an entrepreneurship class and he allowed me to explore and put together a business plan for a casino and he got me a mentor that had a casino in Vegas, a small casino.
But that really helped me was to make that jump into tribal gaming and in turn, help all these tribes. So, I just want to add that if it wasn’t for Haas to set me. And I only applied to Haas. It was the only school I wanted to go to. And David Downs was the director at that time. And one of our first days, he said, “How many people know what they want to do next?” And nobody really raised their hand.
He goes, “That’s why you’re here, to explore new opportunities and to see what else there is out there.” And that was exactly what I was doing. Tribal gaming was really just starting. It was becoming legalized. And so, I had the opportunity to pursue that path and explore it. And I’ve helped develop a lot of casino projects.
And now, I’m in the next stage of my life, where I’m exploring, either opening my own business or doing some consulting work, or going to work for my own tribe, just helping them prepare for the future, for what’s happening particularly with the funding sources that the tribe get. It’s not always reliable. If something happens, if wars continue, and there’s a huge deficit, we don’t know if we can rely on those cash flows. And I’m telling the tribe they can’t. So, how can I help the tribe diversify?
[40:16] Sean: It’s been a real pleasure having you on today, Michael. I feel like I’ve learned so much from this conversation. Really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast. Go bears.
[40:26] Michael: Go Bears. Thank you, Sean.
[40:32] Sean: Thanks again for tuning into this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating review. If you’re looking for more content, please check out our website at haas.fm. That’s spelled H-A-A-S.F-M.
And there, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcast. OneHaas Podcast is a production of the Haas School of Business, and produced by University FM. Until next time. Go, Bears!