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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 22, 2004 - Issue 113


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American Indian business burgeoning

by Brenda Norrell - Southwest Staff Reporter, Indian Country Today
credits: graphic: Business Growth Chart. (Graphic by Lea Gonyea); photo: Twin Warriors at Hyatt. (Photo by Dan Monaghan / Courtesy N.M. Dept. of tourism)

Business Growth Chart. (Graphic by Lea Gonyea)SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. - American Indian businesses are the fastest growing in America, and they are not just gaming-related, but a diverse expansion of a wide range of businesses, said speakers at the Native American Business Alliance’s annual conference.

"Indians have diversified their portfolio in a strategic way," said Ronald Langston, national director of the Minority Business Development Agency, an agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Aboriginal businessmen from Canada joined American Indians from the U.S. at the extraordinary adobe Hyatt of Santa Ana Pueblo, with a view of the rolling hills, sage and sky, for NABA’s annual conference April 25 - 27.

Praising the growth in Indian country, Langston said American Indian firms grew in number by 84 percent, while all U.S. firms grew by only 7 percent, according to recent census data.

The gross receipts of American Indians shot up a whopping 179 percent, compared to 40 percent for all U.S. firms.

Referring to the misconceptions and stereotypes in America, Langston said, "Many people believe that this growth is because of casino gaming, but you know that is a lie, just like ‘all Asians know Kung Fu.’"

Pointing to the diverse types of businesses across Indian country, Langston said, "Indian country has the best diversification. This is a great achievement, this is not an accident!"

Stressing leadership, vision and diversification during an outdoor NABA luncheon on Santa Ana Pueblo, Langston urged American Indians to celebrate cultural authenticity and move away from thinking of themselves as victims.

"You are either a winner or a whiner, you’re either a victor or a victim!"

Among the attendees were 45 Aboriginal chiefs and economic development officers from Canada, eager to do business with American Indians in the United States. Salmon, fashion, health products and hardwood and plywood were among the ready Aboriginal exports from Canada.

More than two-dozen Fortune 500 companies attended the conference, which included a golf tournament at Santa Ana Pueblo’s Twin Warriors Golf Course.

Jackie Gant, Oneida Nation of the Thames of Canada and executive director of NABA, said the convention was created to build relationships and promote businesses as Native business people look to the future.

"It’s about coming together, whether you are an urban Indian or from the reservation," she said in an interview with Indian Country Today.

"We are now at a level where we are respected. We are now getting the attention we deserve; the corporate sector is paying attention to us. It’s an exciting time, the businessmen are coming to us; we need to work with government, we want to work with corporations."

With hopes of establishing a NABA national office in Washington, Gant said it is diversification that will carry Native nations forward and secure their future for generations yet to come.

Gant has worked in the fields of construction claims, workers compensation and as a paralegal while serving as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. With a master’s degree in Education, the Harvard graduate balances more than one full-time job and also serves on the economic development committee of her nation.

Pointing out that Indian youth need role models, Gant said, "We are all mentors and they have to learn from us."

Urging American Indians to get involved, Langston said the Minority Business Development Agency provides technical and managerial services for business development.

Urging American Indians to access the Minority Business Development Agency centers such as the one in Albuquerque, he said, "We want Indian country to see themselves as owners, to set up businesses and pass wealth on to their grandchildren. Businesses in Indian country are under-represented in the American economy. We want to increase the overall size of minority businesses."

Langston said there are three keys to growth. The first is access to capital, the second is education in financial literacy and the third is technology. Technology includes getting involved with e-commerce as a leverage tool.

Stressing the need for dynamic leadership in Indian country, in order to promote Indian-owned businesses, Langston said, "That’s what I love about Chief Phillip Martin."

Praising the Mississippi Choctaw’s entrepreneurship, he said, "It’s nothing short of spectacular."

Langston, African American, said he encourages other blacks and American Indians, to move beyond the mode of victim thinking.

"We can’t allow ourselves to be victimized! You are either a victor or a victim. Let’s move on!"

Langston pointed out that 60 percent of the Mississippi Choctaw work force consists of non-Indians from the region.

"Look at Mississippi, these are the same people that drove the Indian people off their land, hunted them down and shot them - those are the people they are employing now."

Among the speakers opening the NABA conference was Sue Williams, of the Chippewa Industrial Development business park. She said Native youths who attended the NABA gathering in 2002 in Detroit now have their own businesses, one is a restaurateur and another is an artist.

"The NABA conference brings a global economy together for Native American businesses," Williams said.

NABA includes more than 200 American Indian Owned member companies. The latest census figures indicate there are 197,000 Native American owned businesses in the United States, which generate more than $34 million and employ 300,000 people every year.

"I am here to say, we believe in Indian country. NABA can play a pivotal role for a greater involvement in a worldwide economy," Langston said.

Still, Langston said more data is needed about Indian country and people living on tribal land. "I think we can do a lot better. I will go anywhere I need to go."

While there is a push in Washington for e-commerce, Langston said minority businesses are not on this radar screen. "We’re not in the game and we’re missing in the hunt."

Langston said Indian tribes have their own land, a ready work force and the ability to regulate their own taxes. Solutions are needed for expansion and growth.

"I believe Indian country may be the solution for in-sourcing for products made in the United States. Businesses will pursue businesses where opportunity arises."

Langston said the other concept that works is outsourcing, which he said is "paying someone else to do things you don’t do well. It’s not rocket science," he said, adding that it is all about making the most efficient product for the lowest cost, resulting in the most profit.

Langston encouraged local businesses to partner with Indian country for things other than gaming. "Indian country can be a strategic knowledge center. Great organizations manage what they know. Indian country can be a real leader."

Langston said race and an attitude of being black matters to his people and for American Indians, pride matters.

"The issue of authenticity of Indian heritage is what really matters. I need Indian country to come to the table, no matter what tribe you are from and work with us," he said, adding that conflicts and tribalism can hinder progress.

NABA is seeking a new path toward business in Indian country.

"In a business environment that seeks quick fixes and embraces cut-throat tactics, [NABA] follows a different path: a path of integrity, strength and vision," NABA said announcing the conference, sponsored by the Daimler-Chrysler.

NABA said its members don’t dwell on a short-term view of business. Rather, they balance immediate needs with a long-term view that encourages awareness of how decisions affect the seven generations that follow.

During the conference, American Indian business owners participated in talking circles and discussed opportunities with tribal leaders and corporate representatives.

Instead of a rushed morning meal, there was a traditional breakfast of bread freshly baked in clay ovens by members of the Santa Ana Pueblo.

Visit NABA on the Web at

Santa Ana Pueblo, NM Map

Maps by Travel

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