CNAY and NAFOA Prepare the Next Generation of Tribal Business Leaders

Gen-I Fellows: Jorge Martinez, Jessica Bradby, Joshua Emerson, Jordan Oglesby, and Joshua Bertalotto (Courtesy CNAY)

What’s the best way to ensure a future of robust economic development for Indian Country?

Inspire our Native youth to pursue careers in finance and business.

That’s the idea behind the Gen-I Career Success Fellowship created through a partnership between the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) and NAFOA.

“We recognize that to be able to engage future generations, you need to engage youth and build up their capacity and interests as young people as they come into their own professional journey,” explains Bettina Gonzalez, CNAY’s outreach and engagement associate who manages their part of the fellowship program, which just completed its second year.

The fellowship is an all-expenses-paid scholarship—including a $125 clothing stipend—to attend NAFOA’s annual conference (this year it was in New Orleans) and the Gen-I Career Leadership Summit preceding the conference. “During the summit, we invite different leaders and tribal economic development partners from NAFOA’s network to give hands-on advice to the fellows on the best pathways to careers in banking, finance and business,” Gonzalez says about this exclusive networking opportunity for young Native Americans, ages 18 to 24.

This year’s Gen-I Career Success Fellows are: Jessica Bradby (Pamunkey Indian Tribe), Joshua Bertalotto (Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana), Jordan Oglesby (Navajo Nation), Jorge Martinez (Mazahua Jῆatrjo) and Mixtec (Ñuu Savi), and Joshua Emerson (Navajo Nation).

Bertalotto, a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University who is pursuing a career in Native policy, says the fellowship experience was “amazing.” In the 22-year old’s words, “It was a key networking opportunity for all of us. I realized immediately when I arrived at the conference how many important Native business leaders, policymakers and tribal leaders I would be meeting.”

Bertalotto is currently working in Washington D.C. with the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The fellowship helped him re-evaluate his continuing education plans. “I never thought of business school as an option for someone, like me, interested in policy. But after hearing tribal leaders tell us that the best thing they ever did was get an MBA, I am considering that route instead of getting a master’s in public policy.”

A business graduate with a concentration in finance, Oglesby says one of the highlights of the leadership summit was meeting the other fellows.

“Growing up, I really didn’t know anyone who had the same interests as I do. But at the summit, it was clear that I am not the only one who wants to make a difference in our Native communities through business and economic development,” Oglesby said.

The Navajo student is turning up the heat on her career plans by attending law school at the University of New Mexico School of Law, just in case she decides to follow the path of her great-grandfather, once chief justice of the Navajo Nation. “Someday, I may want to be a tribal judge. But I also have a lot of interest in business and learning more about it. I am only 23, so I have a lot to learn, and a lot of doors open to me!”

How do you become a Gen-I fellow? Applicants must first enroll in the Native American Career Success Academy, a free online program from NAFOA that covers career preparation, and understanding financial costs and how they relate to decision-making. Students who complete the entire course are invited to apply for the fellowship, which consists of answering short essay questions, submitting a resume and listing relevant coursework.

“We are looking for youth who aren’t necessarily in banking and finance. But at least recognize that tribal economic development is necessary for creating change and helping their communities,” says CNAY’s Gonzales.

For Bertalotto, the big takeaway from the NAFOA conference was what he learned about taxation—something he says he never thought about before.

“So many tribes are worried about issues with state and local city councils taxing them. This infringement on tribal sovereignty and how we go about tackling that as a sovereign government really resonated with me,” Baertalotto said.

He also learned that economic development and public policy in Indian Country are intertwined. “They go hand-in-hand. Advances in one can advance the other, and vice versa.”

Oglesby was surprised to learn from the conference that gaming is not the only economic opportunity available to tribes. “I was completely wrong! All these tribes are on the forefront of technology, like cryptocurrency.” She continues, “It was empowering to learn that there are other industries that my tribe and others can get into besides gaming.”

She specifically mentions cannabis. “I think marijuana is definitely the next big industry, and I feel we are already behind in breaking into that.”

No matter what her future holds, Oglesby says her heart will always be with her people and she hopes to one day be working for her tribe. “The Navajo Nation has really invested in me and my education. They try so hard to create futures for all of us, and we have to come back and invest back into them, as well.”

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