5 Questions: Q & A with Derek Bailey
When elected Chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians in 2008, Derek Bailey became the youngest to hold that
position in the organization's history. The TCBN caught up with him to discuss the region, the economy, and the Tribe's future. For more on
the Grand Traverse Band, see pg. 16.
BN: It seems the Grand Traverse Band has been a lot more public recently. Has that been a change in philosophy or just your own goal?
DB: With the work of past tribal leadership, I came into office in 2008 and have been able to build on some great things that have been done before. When I ran, I ran on the understanding that I wanted to increase the awareness of the Grand Traverse Band on the local, state and federal levels, so I was up front that this was my emphasis. In the late 1980s we were at the forefront of the region, and I felt we had lost some of that.
BN: Still, a lot of people in the area don't know much about the tribe. What do you think is people's biggest misconception?
DB: I think probably that we are limited to only the two casinos – that that's all we do. Sometimes people don't fully understand the depth of our tribal government or that we're a sovereign tribal nation, we have laws similar to the federal government, and we interact with local units of government, work with state representation, and also have a nation-to-nation relationship. That's probably the thing that's missed the most.
BN: How's the Tribal economy?
DB: Just like any form of government, when we had a recession we were impacted. We had to take action. In fall 2009, we approved the Tribal Budget Reduction Reorganization Act, which downsized our government and cut our costs. We had to be careful not to threaten our savings or our legacy. None of it was easy, but I commend our Tribal Council for making these decisions for future generations. I really do. Of course our business side has always had a recognition of the marketplace and budgets.
BN: Where do you see the Grand Traverse Band's role in the regional economy in, say, 50 years?
DB: My hope and intent is that the Grand Traverse Band would diversify its economic holdings. We want to think outside the box to develop our economic portfolio beyond gaming and the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. I think we can continue to be a great community partner and do so always with integrity. I see us helping organizations and people here with everything from roads and infrastructure to helping organizations like Father Fred and many others.
BN: We have to ask, having seen and heard you so much in the public spotlight recently. What are your personal plans for your future?
DB: My term ends in May 2012, and I tell you what: I am completely honored to have this experience and opportunity, and to work hard for the tribal citizenship. I'm honored by some of the things people have said about me and, if at some point there's a way I can do more down the road, I would look at that. But for now I honestly can say I am totally focused on our tribe, our people and this region.