The concept of economic sustainability in Indian country is gathering some steam with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development as the driving engine.
NCAIED presented a regional Reservation Economic Summit last week in Phoenix—a three-day event featuring everything from the traditional golf tournament to a Procurement Expo and a Business Trade Show.
“Our big annual RES gathering is in Las Vegas [March 17-20, 2014 at Mandalay Bay], but these regional gatherings are catching on,” said NCAIED President/CEO Gary Davis.
“We drew nearly 300 to Oklahoma’s Hard Rock Hotel/Casino last fall, that and more in California at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, and now over 500 here at Wild Horse Pass Hotel/Casino, almost doubling our numbers in less than a year. I see this concept of smaller—but very productive—regional gatherings growing exponentially as a testament to the need out there, an affirmation of the opportunities for business in Indian country. Being a national economic development organization, it’s our job to be proactive in facilitating opportunities. We bring a positive message, and once it gets out and people receive it, they want to be a part of it. We believe that trend will continue and we’ve been blessed that our efforts have been validated.”
While no event can be all things to all people, RES Arizona came close with a packed agenda of activities on a number of levels.
Education being a key to advancement was recognized in the Fellowship in Business Student Scholarship Awards with funding made available to six recipients. “We need to cultivate our people, to create more well-educated participants in economic development,” said Dr. Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain College, who provided the keynote address for the breakout session Collaboration for Successful Business Climates, Tribal Colleges, and Tribal Governments. “Last year, we gave away $10,000. This year we raised it to $22,000, and we’ll continue to up that figure every year.”
The Arizona event also premiered NCAIED’S Twenty Grand Business Plan competition that allowed wholly owned Native start-up or established businesses to vie for the cash prize that was won by Canadian Kendal Netmaker’s company, Neechie Gear, a lifestyle apparel brand that donates a portion of its proceeds to help fund sports programs for underprivileged youth. “All anyone of us needs is an opportunity,” Netmaker said. “If you don’t take a chance, you might not recognize your dreams.”
Nineteen firms competed and “although we’re only able to crown one winner, all the applicants are winners who deserve recognition,” said Davis. “We’re not looking for a return on investment, we just want to walk our talk by helping entrepreneurs. We’re going to put $20,000 on this effort every time we come together at one of our events.”
The $20K award presentation was part of the National Center Diversity luncheon with the theme, Opportunities for our communities by uniting our communities in business. “Mainstream America is recognizing the economic impact of Indian country,” said Loren Tapahe, president and CEO of Arizona’s American Indian Chamber of Commerce. “We’re in the first generation of business owners playing a catch-up game. We need to join forces and play that game together because the need for coordination exists in order to build and advance business.”
The day—filled with seminars on topics ranging from education, energy, environment, and economic development—ended with “Native American 40 Under 40” recognition and Indian Progress in Business Awards.
Forty emerging American Indian leaders under age 40 were honored for their demonstration of leadership, initiative, and dedication to achieve contributions in businesses, communities, and Indian country.
Awardee Briannon Xwe’-t-‘ee-tr’e Fraley of the Tolowa Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, California, said: “I come from a strong lineage of women Native leaders. This is an elite group, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”
Vincent Knight, president of the Pueblo of Laguna Board of Education, just made the age cutoff at 39. “I know previous recipients of this award, and it’s nice to be in their company. Hopefully this will matriculate into an 80 Under 80 award, because No. 1, I’ll still be alive, and No. 2, it will feel like a lifetime achievement award.”
Navajo politician Carlyle Begay, the youngest state senator in the Arizona legislature, was Master of Ceremonies for the Indian Progress in Business Awards, the oldest Native American recognition event that acknowledges accomplishments made by American Indians and those who support their economic and business development endeavors.
“There are more opportunities open to us as natives than ever before in our history," Begay said. "My advice is to get an education; make the most of every opportunity; find your passion, and discover a way to make a difference. We’ve been in an era of hopelessness for too long, but we’re in a new and unique era now, one of self-determination where we’re leading the way for our people.”
Recognized as Corporation of the Year was Kitchell Construction, which has provided $800 million in projects to more than 25 Nations. Kari McCormick, director of client services for Kitchell's Native American Division, accepted the award. Winnebago Tribal member David Beaver of Nebraska, whose Titan Facility Services company holds federal contracts across the country, was named Entrepreneur of the Year, and Denis Turner, member of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and executive director of the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association, won the coveted Jay Silverheels Lifetime Achievement Award.
NCAIED officials are optimistically predicting a crowd of well over three thousand for the spring RES summit in Las Vegas and advise early booking to avoid being shut out.