Gary Davis, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a successful entrepreneur, was named the president and chief executive officer of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) on June 7.
Over the past two decades, the man more widely known by his rap artist and actor moniker “Litefoot” has become an industry unto himself. In 1992 he launched his own record label, Red Vinyl Records, recording 11 award-winning albums that have been distributed worldwide. In 2001 he came out with the clothing and accessory line Native Style; that same year he co-founded the Association for American Indian Development, Inc., a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering American Indian people through its popular Reach the Rez Project.
Then, in 2005, he started Litefoot Enterprises, LLC, a consulting, apparel and entertainment company that facilitated several multimillion dollar projects in Indian country. His newest company, Litefoot Entertainment Group, debuted in May 2011. The full-service, booking and merchandising company promotes and markets such notable Natives as Levi Horn of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and George “Comanche Boy” Tahdooahnippah, the current World Boxing Council Continental Americas Middleweight Champion.
“My own entrepreneurial pursuits have acted as the catalyst and created so much opportunity for me, that I really understand the importance—on obvious levels and underlying levels—of what it can mean for a person when an organization like the NCAIED helps a person take grasp of their destiny, vision and aspiration in business,” Davis told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Now Davis is directing his energy toward the NCAIED and its goals to advance global opportunities for Indian country through its Global Native Trade Center (GNTC). Sponsored in part by the Forest County Potawatomi and UPS, the GNTC is geared at helping tribes and Native businesses establish international trade relationships with foreign entities.
“At a time when diversifying our economic vision has never been more important, the National Center’s role in fostering global relations between Indian country and other countries to facilitate new opportunities beyond the U.S. is the future,” Davis said. “And that’s not just a one-way street. Tribal leaders have spoken about import and export, and how to exercise tribal sovereignty to not just help their own tribal communities, but to help drive the U.S. economy.
“While many people may find the idea of Indian country driving the U.S. economy absurd, I believe there is a way to do it,” he continued, citing the success of gaming in Indian country as an example. “Some people thought gaming was crazy. They never thought it would become so lucrative for many tribal nations.”
Davis realizes global expansion has to start at the regional level. The NCAIED plans to widen its scope by taking the highly successful Reservation Economic Summit (RES) into additional regionally focused events throughout the country. “It will be the RES model expanded into regionally focused events with nationally relevant content, so that we really drive economic momentum to regions across the U.S. by showcasing tribal enterprises,” he said. The first regional event, “RES Oklahoma,” will take place this November 14 and 15 at the Cherokee Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa. Next year, the main “RES Vegas” event will be held from March 11 to 14 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
The RES events will focus on three key areas: sustainability, diversity and innovation. “With regards to sustainability, our people have always known that we don’t just plan for right now, we have to plan for multiple generations from now.
That visionary thinking will lead Indian country to where it needs to be economically. With regards to diversity, we have to encourage our communities to continuously look at the opportunity scope in existing as well as new and emerging markets,” such as technology and international import/export, Davis said.
Insofar as innovation was concerned, the concept “was really driven home to me a couple months ago at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California,” Davis said. The NCAIED has created new for-profit entities to facilitate strategic partnerships with successful global corporations such as Apple and AT&T.
During the NCAIED meeting with Apple executives, the philosophy of Apple founder and former CEO Steve Jobs resonated with Davis: “Innovation was always a major part of anything that [Jobs] envisioned. I believe that oftentimes, in any business or sector, you can become complacent and forget to constantly sharpen the stick, so to speak. You have to always reassess that what you are providing, whether it is a service or a product, is really causing growth and stimulating the advancement of your sector.
“By my understanding of who we are as a people traditionally, we have always been innovators, evidenced by the pyramids that still exist in Mexico, the incredible mounds in the Southeastern United States up into the Ohio valley—those are just some of the phenomenal things we have been able to do. Innovation has always been a part of who we are. Abandoning that now or not making it one of the most important components in how we do what we do seems almost as if we are forgetting the ways of those who walked this Earth before us. We have a bar that’s been raised very, very high as innovators. I look forward to making sure that we continue to grow our economic expectations and focus on innovation at all of our Reservation Economic Summits.”