More than two dozen Navajo youth eagerly snapped photos of brokers bustling on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) floor the morning of June 10.
The current students and recent graduates of Saint Michael Indian School in Window Rock, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation attended the ringing of the bell at the exchange as the invited guests of NativeOne Institutional Trading, the first Native-owned company to become a member of the NYSE. “This is the heart of the food chain,” Patrick Forbes, the 22-year-seasoned trader who helps operate NativeOne’s trading desk, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “NativeOne is on Wall Street.”
Don Lyons, the firm’s chief executive and member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, co-founded NativeOne with Dennis Smith, a Wall Street veteran since 1976. The firm, which officially debuted on Wall Street on Dec 28, 2010, gives a portion of its commissions back to the American Indian community in the form of scholarships, internships, job training and other charitable causes.
“We give a percentage [of NativeOne’s proceeds] back to an education fund for that tribe,” Smith told ICTMN, adding that he hopes one day one of these Navajo youth will run NativeOne.
“The kids are impacted by this, but we will never be able to measure the ripple effect back home, when they tell their friends and family,” Dennis said of their experience at the NYSE.
Visiting the NYSE culminated the students’ week-long trip in New York, which included visits to Times Square, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty, amongst other sites. For many of the Navajo youth, the barriers NativeOne broke down for Indian Country encourages them to reach new heights.
“It inspires me to keep moving forward, not to get stuck on the reservation, to learn something different,” said Dorothea Joe, senior at Saint Michael Indian School. “It encourages the people.”
Nearly every student expressed pride that Indians are finally getting the recognition and representation they deserve. “It is nice to know some Native Americans are being recognized,” said Jessica Grace Susan Begay, soon-to-be freshman at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque. “We are such a large community. It helps me to know we are not completely forgotten. We are still a part of this country.”
Begay plans to major in biology at UNM and then attend medical school for cardiovascular surgery. “Then I want to return to the reservation,” Begay told ICTMN. “There are not many cardiovascular surgeons on the reservation. My main goal is to help people back home.”
Similarly, giving back to Indian communities is the basis of NativeOne’s charitable model and what impelled Everett Dearman, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine, to join NativeOne. “Native Americans have been taken advantage of by people in finance over the years,” Dearman told ICTMN. “Tribes need someone they can trust, [someone] who knows the culture and values.”
Dearman, who moved to New York City six-and-a-half years ago when he scored a job at Merrill Lynch through the firm’s Native American network, never imagined he would be working with a Native-owned firm on Wall Street. “I did not expect to be in New York of all places. But I’ve survived, and I’m going to be with a great firm,” Dearman said of NativeOne.
On August 25, NativeOne will ring the closing bell in honor of their membership on the NYSE. “Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly recently visited the NYSE and we hope he and many other Natives will attend this historical event,” Smith said.
After hosting the Navajo students at the NYSE, Smith traveled to the Navajo Reservation, where he has visited 20 to 30 times in the past 14 years, he said, to lead a seminar on bond financing and economic development. During his visit, the Navajo students returned NativeOne’s hospitality. “The Saint Michael’s kids cooked us dinner—Navajo tacos,” Smith said enthusiastically. “That was Jimmy [Jim Maguire, Jr., a former NYSE specialist who helps run NativeOne’s trading desk] and my first experience with Navajo tacos.”