LAS VEGAS — It’s been said by motivational speakers and entrepreneurs a
million times, and in just as many ways, but it can be boiled down into
some rather simple terms: success breeds success. And in the case of the
National Reservation Economic Summit and American Indian Business Trade
Fair, which recently celebrated two decades as the nation’s largest and
longest-running American Indian business event, it’s proven to be true.
Tribal businessmen and women have been coming together once a year at RES
to share ideas, build new relationships and strengthen old ones, and there
is no doubt that the convention has been a key to economic success
throughout Indian country.
It’s that bond between business leaders that was emphasized at this year’s
conference, held in Las Vegas Feb. 6 — 9, and sponsored by the National
Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. The theme of RES 2006
was “Building Sustainable American Indian Enterprises — Facing the
Challenges and Seizing the Opportunities.”
“This has never been so true in Indian country as it is today,” Ken
Robbins, Standing Rock Sioux and the National Center’s CEO and president,
said of the chosen theme for the conference. “Every individual here has
their own dream and we hope that through this conference — and the
contacts you make here — you will realize those dreams. The more we share
our experiences, the more opportunities we will create for each other to
Since its debut in 1986 as an informal meeting place for American Indian
business leaders to exchange ideas, RES has grown into a massive business
seminar for Native entrepreneurs. From the start, its purpose was to aim
those wanting to start their own business in the right direction and steer
them toward contacts that could bring success. RES has always been about
networking, and through its series of seminars it lays the foundation for
success as proven business strategies are shared in Las Vegas and then
taken back to tribal members on the reservation.
“It’s all about networking. Hopefully you go home with a handful of
business cards,” said National Center Chairman Ron Solimon, Laguna Pueblo,
in his welcome speech at an opening morning breakfast. In a letter provided
in the conference manual, Solimon stressed the togetherness factor.
“History dictates the message that indigenous people stick together or get
threaded apart. These are increasingly challenging times for our homeland
— the United States of America, and our heartland — the Tribal Nations to
which we belong,” Solimon wrote. “Together we can face the challenges of
our Nations and businesses. In doing so, one People’s struggle is another
People’s struggle … What’s good for Indian business is good for America.
We must seek expansive Indian business progression with national business
As in years past, the convention was broken into four tracks with a series
of informative sessions under each topic. The first was on information and
communications technologies and how individuals can unlock the doors to
success in a 21st century global economy. There were also tracks on
maintaining competitiveness in today’s business market with seminars
offering tips and strategies to stay ahead of others in the field, and on
purchasing trends in corporate America telling conventioneers how to build
relations and become long-term suppliers.
And lastly, this year RES offered a track on energy and economic
development. Kicking off the energy topic was Interior Department Secretary
Gail Norton, who told attendees that President Bush “is committed to
creating jobs in Indian country as well as all of America.”
In her speech, Norton stressed the importance of internal energy
development, noting that Bush made the topic one of his three key issues in
his State of the Union address.
“This is a great opportunity for tribes who have energy resources, clearly
in renewable energy,” Norton said, pointing out the advances some tribes
have already made in this area and announcing a budget increase of $2
million to help tribes diversify their energy portfolio. “I don’t have to
tell you there is a lot of talent in Indian county. Wind energy, biomass
and other alternative energy sources” are out there.
Greg DuMontier, president and CEO of S&K Technologies and vice chairman of
the Native American Contractors Association board of directors, praised
tribal members for their work in advancing Native businesses but said to
attendees: “We still have a huge gap we need to close. We are still the
poorest of the poor. Our challenge is to find our voice.”