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Connecting Past and Future: Indigenous Business Leaders in Context of Community

Community is the key. Our identity, our sense of belonging and sense of self all start with community. We grow up understanding ourselves in reflection of, and react to, community. From our families, to extended families, to other families that walk and talk like us, to other groups that are completely different, community defines who we are, and who we aren’t.

american indian business leaders logoMost Americans take for granted their community. For the majority, community is an ever-present supportive source of what we can be. But for some Americans — like our grandparents, who weren’t allowed to speak our languages or pray the way their grandparents prayed — the support may be harder to find. So for some of us, education about community is a place to begin.

The emphasis started with Indigenous inclusion in the social sciences where sociology and anthropology field researchers worked directly with Indigenous community members, and eventually those community members went to school. Then political studies, law school, and eventually medical schools, recruited in underserved communities, including those whose millennia old political systems, sovereign institutions and medical practices were discouraged and replaced.

Now, as technology brings the world ever closer, our communities balance lands and resources against global markets and scarcity. Today education is the bridge for Native peoples, connecting a past of disempowerment and dispossession with a self-sufficient future. From tech to data driven decisions to digital marketplaces, education is that tool to engage difference and disparity, while respecting a history of diversity among Indigenous communities: education to temper diversity in an ever shrinking world; education not informed by anger, or motivated by guilt, or centered on frustration; education about “thinking forward”; education about inclusion.

Man sitting in chair with legs crossed speakingCommerce USED TO BE in terms of arrows and baskets, it IS NOW marketing, advertising, planning, and budgeting. Marketing yourself, not because you are broken but because you are valuable. Advertising what you have not because you have to sell it to survive, but because you know its worth. Understanding change not because difference is bad, but because you have something others don’t. Budgeting so every dream is invested in, and planning because those dreams that were taken away are here again, and offer us strategies our parents, our grandparents, and their parents didn’t have.

Native people have lost so much we can’t afford to disenfranchise even one Indigenous community member. Every community member is a potential social leader, political leader — and of course — a business leader. The challenge for our generation is to reach into community, identify skills and propensities each person has, and strategize ways to best support their development as a leader.

This is very much the same problem every generation has faced; who will make the best arrow shafts, flake the sharpest stone edges, weave the strongest baskets, learn the most trade language words, remember past trades most accurately and invest resources with the greatest return. And we continue to ask this question today … How do we connect our resources in the most efficient way to creating the most effective business leaders?