Widening Tribal Access to Infrastructure
In a truly historic and inspiring move, three Michigan-based tribes collaborated to form Aki Construction LLC. “When our councils got together to celebrate this — that has never happened,” said Shanna Shananaquet, one of Aki’s founders, of the partnership. “I’ve asked our elders, and they couldn’t tell me the last time that’s ever happened. So to come together like that was really, really big for us.”
Aki is a joint venture between the economic arms of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corporation), the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Investments), and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians (Mno-Bmadsen). Established in November 2022, Aki–which means “earth”–is a first-of-its-kind construction company conceptualized by Shanna and Monica King last summer while reconnecting at a pow-wow.
Together with Julio Martinez, CEO of Mno-Bmadson, the trio created Aki to give their tribes access to what they desperately needed: infrastructure.
“It was a really cool thing to say, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this,’ and then we’re going to be able to serve all of our needs as a tribe,” said Monica, CEO of Gun Lake Investments. “Beyond that, in tribal country, every tribe is unique, and understanding that and how to work with tribes is special. Having a construction management company that honors tribes' cultures, values, and their uniqueness is exciting because I think we’ll be able to offer something that is not currently being offered.”
Of Aki’s plans to take on projects that include affordable housing for their tribes, Shanna, Executive Director of Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corporation, says:
“We are really, truly creating that ecosystem and supporting our tribal members, and that is huge. It will give someone somewhere to live, and we supported that as a company. We’re making people’s lives better, so that feels pretty good.”
Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corporation, Gun Lake Investments, and Mno-Bmadson were all moving into economic development outside of casino projects before the partnership. Aki is member managed and can use the resources of its parent companies as it grows. “We all have significant projects within each tribe, so it aligns very well,” said Monica. “When we look at economic development, we like to be able to help and enhance our own ecosystem.”
The creation of Aki allows the tribes to leverage each other’s resources and grow stronger together, but Shanna described how the partnership is significant because, historically, tribes have not always collaborated. “We have our culture and traditions. Since Monica and Julio’s tribe are Potawatomi, and I’m Odawa, there are different ways of how we relate to each other, and different stories that we have about tribes working together. So this is a really big deal,” said Shanna.
Gun Lake Investments has participated in collaborations with other tribes in the past, and Monica expressed how significant it is to build a partnership with two tribes instead of one considering the lack of historical partnerships between tribes.
“You can probably count on both hands the total number of collaborations across the country,” she said. “We were able to learn from some of our other collaboration ventures for some of the governance, but we really didn’t model (Aki) after anything.”
Ultimately, the mission of Aki is to serve tribal country–and beyond–through construction management. “I think there is a stigma attached that it’s really, really complicated and (different) tribes don’t work well together,” said Monica. “But that, so far, has not been the case in this story.”