Thousands of subscribers across North America, every member of Congress and all attendees of the Native Business Summit will soon hold in their hands the May 2019 “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue. Our debut “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue — and sixth print issue of Native Business Magazine — serves to uplift Native business founders and leaders who are demonstrating ingenuity, professionalism and self-determination.
Native entrepreneurship is foundational in building strong Tribal economies and keeping dollars circulating within our Native communities. The substantial contributions of Native entrepreneurs merit greater attention and support.
“Native entrepreneurs have not been showcased enough,” said Gary Davis (Cherokee Nation), Publisher of Native Business Magazine. “And in the spirit of that, our ‘Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs’ issue stands to raise the profile of some of these powerful change agents who have taken the initiative to fulfill their dreams, while providing important products and services, and oftentimes offering meaningful employment to Tribal and community members.”
Many of these Native entrepreneurs launched their businesses with little to no startup capital. Their perseverance, innovation and resilience turned mere ideas into reality.
“In this issue of Native Business Magazine, we spotlight successful Native entrepreneurs for one reason more than any other,” shared Carmen Davis (Makah Tribe), Publisher and Executive Editor of Native Business Magazine, “because it is vital that we support our own people. By investing in the goods and services of Native entrepreneurs, we demonstrate to those outside of Indian Country that we’re worthy of commerce and success.”
Native Business additionally hopes that the Native entrepreneurs profiled in this issue will serve as role models for up-and-coming generations across Indian Country to recognize their power and capacity to build thriving businesses to achieve self sovereignty that in turn directly benefits and uplifts Native communities, while making a positive impact on Indian Country as a whole.
Two covers bookend this May 2019 issue, honoring leadership of the two largest Tribes in the United States: the Navajo Nation and the Cherokee Nation.
One cover serves to shine a light on the incredible influence and vision of Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, who are committed to supporting Native entrepreneurs and Native-owned businesses. President Nez and Vice President Lizer shared with Native Business one particularly creative way that they are promoting reservation entrepreneurship — through “Buy Navajo, Buy Local,” a movement that encourages Navajo people to commit to purchasing goods on reservation rather than sending money to border towns.
“‘Buy Navajo, Buy Local’ is self-resiliency at its best,” Vice President Lizer said. “It’s self-government. We challenge our people to recognize that they control their destiny, and when they change their purchasing decisions daily, it could lead to economic viability.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is featured on the other cover of the “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue. An entrepreneur himself prior to taking on his first term as Principal Chief eight years ago (he counts 12 years on Tribal Council), he has applied his wisdom gleaned as a small business owner to leading a Tribal Nation — solving problems, generating jobs, building infrastructure and more. Our cover feature offers a bird’s eye view of the power of economic diversification attained by the Cherokee Nation, which touts more than 30 businesses that are funneling a tremendous amount of money back into the Tribe for community services and scholarships.
Throughout our “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue, we deliver a mix of snapshots and lengthier profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs, in no particular hierarchy, documenting and memorializing their innovation and self-determination. We organized our list of the “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” by sector to demonstrate the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Native Business highlights entrepreneurs who operate businesses in the Energy, Manufacturing & Constructing, Agriculture / Hemp, Art & Tourism, Insurance, Consulting, Graphic Design & Media, Retail, Federal Contracting, Food, Breweries, Accounting & Legal, and Beauty & Wellness sectors.
In the Energy field, we spotlight Geoff Hager, the Osage founder of Big Elk Energy Systems, who leads his business with this mentality: “If you want someone to invest in you, you have to go all-in yourself.”
In the Manufacturing & Construction category, Cat Palmer, Kiowa, shares her considerable career change from nail technician to decorative concrete artisan as the founder of TCB Construction.
Kaben and Shelby Smallwood, the Choctaw brothers behind Symbiotic Aquaponic, helm our Agriculture / Hemp category. The pair launched a company that designs and builds customized backyard and commercial aquaponic farming systems for any individual, Tribe or organization.
In the Art & Tourism category, Native Business features George Rivera, the former Governor of the Pueblo of Pojoaque who has carved out a successful career as an artist sculpting cultural icons. He’s currently creating 13 bronze sculptures, slightly larger than life size, for Pechanga Resort and Casino.
In our Insurance sector, we spotlight Robert Weaver, the Quapaw founder of RWI Benefits, who is committed to getting Tribes better health care at a better price.
Among the many great consultants across Indian Country, we recognize Stephine Poston, who, amongst many other accomplishments, served as the lead event planner for the historic honoring of the first Native Congresswomen, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, in Washington D.C. in January 2019.
And in our Graphic Design & Media category, we share the great story of how two Native entrepreneurs, Jeremy Charles (Cherokee) and Sterlin Harjo (Creek), merged their cinemative and video production aspirations to form Firethief Productions.
Among the venerable entrepreneurs we spotlight in the Retail category is Chrystal Antao, CEO of Cherokee Data Solutions, which provides sales and support for technology and office products. Antao carries on the family business. “My mother, Pamela Bickford, started this company with the money in her pocket,” says Antao. “She started with an idea and a vision to provide for her family and her community, and she did exactly what she set out to do.”
The Federal Contracting sector of our “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue includes Roxie Schescke, the Lakota founder of Indian Eyes, LLC, who in 2005 bootstrapped her operation out of a two-car garage. Today she runs a 60-employee business responsible for generating between $25-27 million in annual revenue.
In the highly popular Food category, Native Business showcases Heat Laliberte, the Cree-Métis founder of One Arrow, an artisanal, naturally-smoked bacon business in Vancouver, Canada.
Among the many Native brewers, two Native women in Albuquerque are excelling in the largely male-dominated craft beer industry. Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. founders Shyla Sheppard, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, and Missy Begay, Navajo, are putting a unique Native and southwestern spin on small-batch brews.
In the Accounting & Legal sector, we underline the positive influence on Indian Country of Sean McCabe, the Navajo founder of McCabe CPA Group, and Gabriel Galanda, a member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of California, who started the law firm Galanda Broadman, PLLC.
In the Beauty & Wellness arena, Spokane sisters Monica Simeon and Marina TurningRobe are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sister Sky, which integrates ancestral herbal wisdom in natural hair and skin products.
The release of our premiere “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” issue underscores the purpose of Native Business: to spotlight, uplift and inspire Tribally and Native-owned businesses. “We rise together, and the heart of everything that we do at Native Business is to empower the self-sovereignty, self-sustainability and prosperity of Indian Country. Native entrepreneurs play a significant role in driving Native economies,” said Gary Davis.
The growth of Native-owned companies will equate to community growth. “If we hire our own people, and purchase goods and services from our own people, we will see Native communities evolve and become more and more powerful economic forces, which will catalyze business opportunities and inspire entrepreneurship among future generations throughout Indian Country,” Gary Davis continued. “If there is one take away for you from this issue, it is: We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”