'We're all one'
Migizi Economic Development Company discusses marketing strategies at Soup and Substance
Mount Pleasant is home to a variety Native American businesses, such as Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel, Sagamok Express Mobil and Cardinal Pharmacy. Something these businesses have in common besides being indigenous is that they are managed by Migizi Economic Development Center.
Staff members from Migizi EDC were panelists at today’s Soup and Substance event discussing their marketing strategies and plans for the future:
- Bonnie Sprague: General Manager of Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel
- Melissa Mullard: Marketing Specialist at Migizi EDC
- Gina Borushko: Marketing Analyst at Migizi EDC
- Brian Smith: Director of Economic Development at Migizi EDC
The event was sponsored by Central Michigan University’s Office of Indigenous Affairs and Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as Migizi EDC themselves. About 70 student and faculty members were present and were able to help themselves to squash bisque, beef barley, dinner rolls and butter.
"These are my favorite heritage month events to attend," said Gabby Bicknell, a senior at Central Michigan University and a Multicultural Advancement Scholar. She said attending events like these is part of her duty as a scholar.
Bicknell said the events usually don't have panels this large and she was glad to see it.
"It was fun to learn about these people and all the different organizations in the tribe," she said.
Migizi EDC is a subsidiary of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. According to their website, they own “a diverse group of enterprises across a wide spectrum of industries.” The businesses are predominantly indigenous owned, and they use cultural elements in their branding.
“It helps further identify us as tribally owned businesses,” said Gina Borushko, a marketing analyst for Migizi EDC.
Borushko said that the company strives to maintain cultural significance in their branding and within their businesses. An example she gave is the Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel, a company Migizi added to their portfolio this past spring.
Bonnie Sprague, the general manager for the waterpark, spoke about how they speak the Anishnabemowin language to guests and staff and have a storytime session with a woman named Nokomis. The park also follows principles (or truths) known as the grandfather teachings.
These truths are:
She also said the waterpark offers cultural dishes to guests, such as corn soup, bean soup, and Native American tacos.
“Everything we (Migizi EDC) own is surrounded by our culture,” Sprague said.
When it comes to future endeavors, Brian Smith said the company has been looking at branching into the marijuana industry. He said the process has been a difficult one due to issues with state laws, federal laws, and tribal sovereignty.
The tribe has their own set of laws they abide by, and therefore tribal members have access to their own fire department, police station, and court that are not connected to the state of Michigan. While the tribe has many businesses that are not regulated by the state, marijuana has different regulations and requirements.
“You need a state license to sell (marijuana), and that creates sovereignty issues,” he said. Smith also said that federal banks will not accept marijuana sourced revenue. There are bills currently being proposed to the Michigan and federal governments respectively.
“We have to reach a compact with the cannabis regulation industry and the Michigan treasury,” he said.
In his role, Smith also has to think about how new enterprises Migizi EDC takes on affects on the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s reputation. He said the business being owned and operated by indigenous people helps with that.
While Smith himself is not indigenous, he worked with the tribe while attending CMU. He was a part-time card dealer at the Soaring Eagle Casino for 16 years while working towards his degree.
“What drew me back (to Migizi) was it was like a family,” he said. “I was coming back to a family I had known for such a long time. I’ve learned so much out there.”
“We’re all one, we’re all the same,” he said. “We can work together seamlessly because of that.”