Henry Red Cloud
Published December 24, 2019
The need for more Native American entrepreneurs is an issue that has been affecting many communities. But after many years of obstacles, entrepreneurship is on the rise in many American Indian communities all across North America. This can be attributed to many initiatives within nations, collaboration between tribes, and a shift in attitude. More are also realising the limitations of the reserve system, and are trying to stake their claim. Let’s take a look at this shift, and what can be done to foster even more entrepreneurship within native communities.
Native Economies are Diversifying
Native entrepreneurs are moving well beyond the stereotypes today, and have done a lot to diversify their assets. We are seeing more entrepreneurs in fields like retail, real estate, and tech as well. Natives have a strong presence in fields like telecommunication for instance. Other popular fields for Native American investors include:
- Digital enterprises
Natives have been able to use industry to champion their culture, not exploit it. There’s also a greater sense of independence across nations, which is in large portion spurred by the younger generations.
“We can do it ourselves,” said Anishinaabe designer, teacher and artist Agaton Howes. “We always have found a way to survive. We are now past surviving; we are trying to thrive.”
Lack of representation and inspiration has also been a major issue for Native Americans, who often feel invisible in public discourse and media. Inspiration is actually the first step, and being able to see examples of successful entrepreneurs in non-stereotypical industries means a lot for the future of natives in North America.
Founders of Turtle Island Communications, Madonna and Mel Yawakie are two of these examples. They offer consulting, broadband, and engineering services to tribal nations.
Their story is remarkable. Madonna Yawakie grew up as a member of the Chippewa nation and started working with U.S West in marketing. She even created a corporate position especially for marketing to the tribes. She and her husband, an engineer by trade, found that native communities were largely underserved and saw an opportunity. They then decided to offer state of the art broadband to tribal communities specifically.
For Madonna, this was a matter of giving back. “We had to do our part,” she said.
Factors that Could Boost Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Even More
However, while there was some progress, there are still a lot of things to do, and many solutions have been to grow Native American entrepreneurship even more. Some include:
- More enrollment into the trades
- More access to faculty
- Online studies
- More initiatives and agreements between nations
- Consistent regulation
Among all factors, the issue of regulation is one that is often overlooked. But changing regulations between reserves and territories can make opening businesses and collaboration more difficult.
In one survey that was conducted on business owners in the US, it was found that “Training programs, and ease of compliance with regulation and tax systems are the key to growth.”
Also, lack of stability can discourage outside investment, and investment within nations. According to the same survey, research shows that “people are less likely to invest if they don’t know if the rules of the game could change at any minute.”
How Online Education Could Help
Another major roadblock to entrepreneurship among native populations is lack of faculty. But online learning could provide a solution. Online learning allows people to get a world class education from wherever they are. This could be a problem solver for many in reservations in the Northern Territories for instance. More will have to be done to raise awareness about these programs.
For example, Aston University offers a great DBA degree Canada which can be completed from virtually anywhere with an internet connection. As native communities are more connected than ever, and online programs fast evolving, this could be a game changer.
But online programs have tons of other benefits natives could benefit from. For instance:
- Students don’t have to leave their communities
- Entrepreneurs can get better expertise while keeping their positions
- More flexibility
- More choices
- Access to the best programs in the world
Why Online Education is Such a Great Option
While a lot of native students would love to attend university, it’s still a very difficult proposition for many of them. For some, they might have formed a tight bond with their nation. Others simply cannot attend university due to lack of resources. Having to relocate to another province is a major investment, even if the cost of tuition is much lower in Canada. Being able to get an education without having to relocate is a major plus and could encourage more to take that route.
Another benefit of online business courses is that they are an open window to the world, and this allows students to communicate with students from different parts of the globe. This allows more natives to have a global vision and open themselves to new possibilities.
Students also get to exchange their stories and contribute to research. Better understanding of the Native American market is something that is much needed in academic research, and this could give many aboriginals the chance to rise to prominence as researchers.
But more importantly, this allows more skills to be developed within the communities, and allows natives to get the credentials to succeed in many roles, in and outside territories and reservations. This will enable more to have a support system outside of these settings, and not limit themselves, as any of the barriers to Native American entrepreneurship have been nurtured in communities for years. Natives are becoming more assertive and confident in their abilities, which allows them to venture into areas where there is little to no representation before and succeed.
The face of Native American entrepreneurship is fast changing, and more successful businesses than ever are coming from Native communities. More still needs to be done, but this generation could be the one to light the fire and change the meaning of what it means to be a Native American entrepreneur.