First Nations is honored to team up with Nonprofit Quarterly to present a series of articles on economic justice in Indian Country and ways that philanthropy might more effectively support this work.
In this series, leading voices in Indian Country, including community development financial institution (CDFI) directors, consultants, and business advisors, will point out structural inequities and call for change and new approaches for economic and social justice.
Helping Native Business Owners Thrive: How to Build a Supportive Ecosystem – September 29, 2021
“The confluence of a devastating global pandemic, climate crisis, and a racial justice reckoning in the US has forced political, business, and community leaders alike to question the systems and structures that got us to this point,” writes Heather Fleming (Navajo) in this week’s installment. But she asserts, “Native communities—and Native entrepreneurs in particular—offer solutions for where we need to go.”
Fleming, who leads the nonprofit Change Labs, writes:
“Native entrepreneurship is typically underpinned by a philosophy and values that emphasize living in beauty, balance, and harmony. In Navajo, this concept is called Hózhó. Many other tribal nations have similar concepts. To live outside your means is an imbalance. Growing your herd of cattle and overgrazing your land is not harmonious with the Earth’s natural order. Similarly, the ‘growth at all costs’ mindset of modern business is incompatible with Hózhó.
Successful Navajo businessmen and women build enterprises that sustain, nurture, and regenerate their communities and the natural ecosystems around them.”
“But being a Native entrepreneur comes with a unique set of challenges—ones that too often stifle the promise and potential of business solutions by and for tribal communities. Many of these challenges stem from centuries of policymaking designed to exclude, oppress, and deprive Native people of wealth and resources. Others are the result of unrealistic or misaligned expectations from Native-run businesses.”
To support Native entrepreneurship and overcome these challenges, Fleming offers three ideas for how to start, or expand, support for Native businesses and their communities.