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Big River Trading Company- Creating sustainable businesses

Meskwaki, Inc. Subsidiary Supplies Native American-Made Goods

September 2, 2017
By Emily Bettridge, Plaid Swan Inc. - Special to The News-Herald , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald


Big River Trading Company, a subsidiary of Meskwaki, Inc. headquartered in Tama, is at its core, a company distributing Native American-made goods. In a larger sense, Big River is telling the story of the Meskwaki Nation.

The Meskwaki Nation is of woodland descent and members are historically craftsman by trade. Meskwaki, Inc. is wholly owned by the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, with the Tribe as the sole shareholder. All business decisions brought to the table are ultimately under Tribal discretion.

Article Photos

Mark Hubble Meskwaki Inc. CEO, Carol Guetschow, general manager and Jason Davenport
-Photo provided

In 2015, CEO Mark Hubble, under the guidance of his Board of Directors and the Tribal Council, launched Big River Trading Company to promote the craftsmanship of the talented Meskwaki members throughout the Midwest. The long-term vision is to supplement income from the Meskwaki Bingo Casino and Hotel through support of entrepreneurship and small businesses.

"Our vision is to tell our story and provide the best of the best Native American products," explained General Manager, Carol Guetschow. "We want to tell the story of Big River and all of the entrepreneurs who have come together to create a great company."

The young company spends time hand-picking vendors who embody the high-quality work produced by Meskwaki. "It has to be natural to reflect back to the tribe and our vision of providing the best of the best," said Guetschow. "We could just sell anything, but for us we want it to be special."

One such vendor is Red Lake Wild Rice based in northern Minnesota. The Red Lake Nation handpicks wild rice through a highly-regulated and very traditional process coined locally as "ricing." During the harvest, members go out onto the ponds and rivers where the wild rice grows, and with very specific and regulated tools, knock the grains into the boat, where they are then swept up and prepared for packaging and sale.

"You really learn to appreciate [the products] more," said Autumn Keahna, operations associate for Big River. "They go through so many steps to make sure you have a quality product. We are here to tell that story."

Products currently available under Big River Trading Company include Renards brand cigarettes, cigars and e-juice, along with Native Brandz Products, including Meskwaki Warrior Sauce, Cattail Creek Coffee, Meskwaki Hope Blankets, Tribal Folding Chairs, Meskwaki T-Shirts, Red Lake Wild Rice and Red Lake Jellies and Jams.

Aside from gathering quality Native American-made products, Big River Trading Company works as a partnership with the businesses they bring in as vendors, helping every step of the way as businesses go from small operations to the larger size necessary to produce for Big River. This includes expert advice, training, media exposure and more.

Keeping the culture alive

One of the challenges in starting Big River Trading Company was gaining the approval of the community. Big River is separate from the tribe, but still part of the tribe, and educating community members and gaining their approval was the priority of the business to begin with. Members needed to learn how the tribe would benefit from these endeavors and with that understanding, begin to stand behind the organization, with Tribal Council having the final say in all matters.

Once Big River had the support it needed from the community, the board set off to implement the ideas and goals in mind to make their vision a reality.

"We want to bring in and reflect to the tribe what we're doing, everything we do from marketing to our margins. Everything we do we want to bring back to the tribe and make it sustainable," said Guetschow.

Keeping this vision in the forefront while making all decisions has kept Big River on track to give back to the community. Through employment opportunities, margins and profits returned to the community and a widening exposure and ability to share its story, Big River Trading Company is quickly becoming a successful part of Meskwaki, Inc. and the Meskwaki community.

Meskwaki Inc. is an economic development company and is owned by the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi located in Tama, Iowa. Big River Trading Company is one division of the economic development organization, Meskwaki Inc.



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