Making It: A Native American man leaves the FBI to investigate ways to help his people
Growing up on Native American reservations in the West and in the pueblos of the Southwest, Walter Lamar got a front-seat view of law enforcement riding around in his father's police patrol car. Not surprisingly, he decided to go into his dad's line of work, eventually training to become an FBI agent.
Four years ago, after serving 20 years as an FBI agent and acting director of law enforcement for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Walter began pursuing his dream of starting his own law enforcement-related business. Taking $25,000 from his savings, he launched Lamar Associates, offering investigative services and law enforcement training in the federal reservation lands known as Indian Country. He located his firm in the District, where he has a home, so he could build on his relationships with government agencies that serve Indian Country. (He and his wife have another home in Albuquerque.)
One of his first jobs was for the Department of the Interior, which contracted with Lamar Associates in 2005 to find Native Americans owed money from the government. Walter found more than 1,600 people owed $16 million. "In almost every case, people had questions that didn't have anything to do with the money," says Walter, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and descendant of the Wichita tribe of Oklahoma.
In some instances, people asked Walter for help finding family members who had been displaced as a result of the U.S. government's long-standing practice of trying to Americanize Native Americans. From the mid-1800s until well into the 20th century, the federal government separated many Native American children from their families and sent them to federal boarding schools, where they were forced to give up their native cultures. Entire families were also moved off reservations to be assimilated into the U.S. workforce. Walter began offering investigative services pro bono to reunite families and help fill in their family trees.
Within his first year of business, Walter, who is 54 and has three grown children, recouped his $25,000 investment. By the third year, he was able to pay himself a $40,000 salary while using additional profits to build a financial cushion for the company. Walter now pays himself $120,000 and says the company is on track this year to bring in about $750,000, which will include revenue from a new drug interdiction training program the company is launching for law enforcement officers. He has hired new training coordinators, bringing his total number of employees to six. Fifteen subcontractors help out when needed.
The additional staffing gives Walter more time to find new business, such as the background check for a Rosebud Sioux tribal leader who was seeking Native American partners to launch a for-profit company with. After looking into a potential partner's background, Walter advised the tribal leader, Charles Colombe, not to pursue the relationship.
"Due to the gaming industry and how closely it's monitored, it's important for Indian Country to have clean hands," Colombe says. Walter's "got a cop mentality and 100 percent showed me he doesn't believe in anything until it's proven true."
Walter views his business as a continuation of his law enforcement service -- but with an even stronger sense of mission.
"It would've been very simple for me to just stay in government," Walter says. "But my dad was a tribal leader. My mom dedicated her life to Indian Country. I felt like it was important to take what I learned from them coupled with the ... experience I had in government and go out and apply that in a way that would directly serve Native American people."