(Editor’s note: Christian Weaver (Shinnecock Nation) is the guest author for this post. He was born in New York and resides in Denver, CO. He is inspired by love, light, life and laughter and is a visual artist, writer, designer, business developer, DJ, philanthropist and powwow dancer. Christian is a major gifts officer for the American Indian College Fund and is the founder and chief people person of NDNcraft.com. Christian also serves on the economic development committee for his tribe and on the board of directors of the Atlanta-based nonprofit drawchange.)
The ideas of entrepreneurship and sustainability aren’t new ideas among Native people. Our ancestors have always practiced these efforts….but it was called survival. Farmers, hunters, fishermen and women, artisans and traders were all entrepreneurs because it was how they provided for their people.
Today entrepreneurship is still a strong tool to ensure the survival of our people. Entrepreneurs drive change and enrich our communities through creative and economic opportunity. We see a multitude of enterprises (not just gaming) emerging from Native communities such as tourism, building construction, the arts, cuisine, digital media, forestry, agriculture and much more. These endeavors enable indigenous people to be sustainable, sovereign and stable.
Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are instrumental in helping to foster and build this entrepreneurial spirit. Through education TCUs help scholars promote cultural preservation and innovation and create economic value. TCUs inspire, instruct, and initiate sustainable thought and practices among their scholars, which directly impact native communities in a positive manner.
Many institutions such as Oglala Lakota College, Leech Lake Tribal College, and Northwest Indian College, are leading the movement in efforts like building sustainable programs that promote health, wellness, cultural identity, and fiscal responsibility. Students at several colleges are learning ways to harness and deliver wind energy, produce feature films, or to provide adequate healthcare for their tribal members.
These are exciting times for the entrepreneurs within us. With the help of TCUs and those who have forged the paths before us, Native people will become a serious force in tomorrow’s business world solidifying and strengthening our sovereign status.