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Native Businesses Prioritize Environmental Protection Beyond Earth Day

Pokagon Band and Four Winds Casinos Outline Key Green Initiatives Across All Properties

More than 193 countries are observing Earth Day today, April 22nd, to underscore the importance of environmental protection. Environmental stewardship is a value embedded in Indigenous peoples worldwide, and a priority reflected in many Native-owned businesses across sectors. Tribal governments and business leaders and entrepreneurs across Indian Country act as advocates for environmental justice and take proactive steps to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on climate change.

Examples range from Tribal leaders proclaiming renewable energy as a top priority, to Tribes preserving forest lands for future generations by selling carbon credits in the California emissions trading market, to a Tribe pursuing a hydrogen-powered data center, to a Tribe committing to zero-emission transportation and infrastructure, among many other initiatives across Indian Country. 

In the gaming industry, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and its Four Winds Casinos recently announced several important green initiatives implemented at all four casinos, their restaurants, hotel and Pokagon Band government offices.

In a recent statement, Matt Wesaw, Chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, outlined the Tribe’s commitment to conservation and recycling efforts.

“The Skebgyak Zhetthken — ‘Do it Green’ in the Potawatomi language — campaign signifies a commitment to our Mother Earth,” Wesaw said. “As of March 1, we eliminated Styrofoam and single-use plastics like straws, cups and cutlery in our Pokagon offices. On April 1, we eliminated plastic water bottles, individual coffee creamers and disposable k-cups. Plastic straws and coffee stirrers have been replaced with a biodegradable 100% vegetable fiber product, and all employees are encouraged to carry a reusable cup and mug.”

Wesaw said citizens and staff have access to two community gardens and can take part in a government-wide composting program that in 2018 diverted nearly 700 pounds of food waste from landfills and turned it into rich compost soil.

According to Wesaw, extensive recycling and reuse efforts have also been implemented at the Casino’s hotel and all of its restaurants. “Frank Freedman has led his team to an impressive campaign to cut down on the waste that is naturally generated at an operation of our size.”

Freedman, COO of Four Winds Casinos, explains the initiatives implemented in all sectors of the operation. In the hotel, rather than discarding used hotel amenities (soaps, shampoos, body washes and plastic packaging), Four Winds recycles them. “We pay an annual fee for a company to recycle and regenerate these products—it’s that important to us as an organization,” Freedman says. “As an example, all used bars of soap and containers are placed into a collection bin. Once it’s full, we ship the container to Clean the World, an organization in Orlando which recycles its contents. Since 2014, when we started this, we’ve recycled over 12,000 pounds of waste which has been used to create over 40,000 bars of soap and nearly 10,000 bottles used in hygiene kits for those in need.

Other green initiatives, Freedman said, include:

  • Partially depleted toilet paper rolls and lightly damaged linens are donated to the Center for the Homeless in South Bend
  • All mattresses once they leave the hotel are recycled. To date, 179 king and 142 queen mattresses have been recycled; and
  • The Go-Green Program (guests staying more than one night are encouraged to reuse towels and bed linen)

Within their restaurants, Freedman points to another program that Four Winds supports which delivers meals to those with food insecurity, Meals for Michiana. Operated through Cultivate Culinary School and Catering, Meals for Michiana partners with local food suppliers to gather edible food that would otherwise go to waste and distribute it to local food banks, pantries and emergency food programs. Since September 2018, Four Winds has donated more than 10,300 pounds of food to Meals for Michiana.

“Like our work with Feeding America where we donate thousands of meals throughout southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, this partnership with Cultivate is indicative of our employees’ values and generosity,” Freedman said. “No one wants to think of our neighbors going hungry. If we can help package and distribute our surplus and provide it to those who need it, we’ll continue to make it happen.”

Beginning May 1, all straws at all four Four Winds properties will be replaced with biodegradable straws and by early summer, all cups in the four locations will be converted to biodegradable product. In the employee dining room, all cups will be replaced with reusable cups.

Other recycled waste from the kitchens include cardboard, aluminum, clear glass bottles, raw bone (the meat and fat are picked up by companies who use the product for animal feed), and residual fats from grease traps which is recycled for the production of biofuel.

“All of these initiatives underscore just how important it is to us that we protect and honor this planet,” Wesaw said. “We are well aware of how precious this land is and our responsibility to it. We also know the ways in which our businesses can affect it and in all that we do, we are committed to being good stewards of this gift.”

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