Dream Warriors: Indigenous Management Company Builds Hope Across Indian Country

The members of Dream Warriors are spreading healing and empowerment across Indian Country through powerful lyrics, music, beats, spoken word poetry, and messages of resilience. By celebrating their indigenous cultures and openly sharing about the hardships they’ve overcome, each Dream Warrior ignites hope in the hearts of indigenous youth.

Far more than a collective, Dream Warriors is an indigenous management company that’s building artist brand awareness. By uniting, the Dream Warriors cast has increased bookings (individually and collectively) and expanded their influence.

Dream Warriors consists of five native artists:

  • Tanaya Winder, an acoustic singer-songwriter, educator, writer, motivational speaker (check out her TED Talk), and spoken word poet from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations;
  • Frank Waln, an award winning Sicangu Lakota Hip Hop artist, producer, and performer from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota;
  • Paul Wenell Jr. (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe), an inspirational speaker and creative writing workshop facilitator who performs and records under the name Tall Paul;
  • Mic Jordan, Anishinaabe from the Turtle Mountain Reservation, a hip hop artist and speaker;
  • and Lyla June, a nationally and internationally renowned public speaker, poet, hip-hop artist and acoustic singer-songwriter of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages.

RELATED: International Speaker Lyla June Talks Creating Businesses That Give & Heal

The Dream Warriors team is currently leading a nationwide “Heal It” tour to reservation-based schools. Thanks to Winder’s promotional and managerial efforts, the Dream Warriors collective is gaining more and more notoriety; the first leg of their Heal It Tour was recently highlighted on Tulalip TV.

“What I love about Dream Warriors is we do not cut ethical corners,” Lyla June underscored. “We are not about the fame. We are not about the money. We are about saving lives and arming native youth to fight the battle the world has set before them. Yes, we are open to sustaining ourselves as artists, but never at the expense of our integrity or of the community. This makes my work as a symbol and a leader in Indian Country easier, because people know that when we come to town, we are legit. We are not there to profit, we are not there to make a name for ourselves, we are there to be good relatives to the people. Ironically, when you come in a good way like this, your demand is higher, and the revenue that comes in is enough to help us keep giving the medicine.”

Dream Warriors was conceived rather organically. Tanaya Winder fortuitously met Frank Waln when he was performing at the University of Colorado Boulder—where Winder directs the school’s Upward Bound program. An exceptional organizer and facilitator by nature, Winder soon began managing Waln’s performance schedule and bookings.

“A lot of my work and music is rooted in community and future generations. Because of Tanaya’s background in education and youth work/community as an Upward Bound Director and community organizer, I’m able to get booked for gigs I want to do in places I want my work to resonate in,” Waln said. “We don’t have to work or search to book performances, workshops or keynotes in Indigenous communities. It happens naturally because we are rooted in and invested in the communities we represent.”

Winder and Waln first joined forces publicly to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women. That’s when Mic Jordan came into the fold, offering to help with graphic design and flyers to promote the initiative. His song “Music Saved Me” impressed the duo. Ultimately, he opened for Waln and Winder at the fundraising event. Eventually, Winder began managing Jordan’s career, too.  

Next came Tall Paul (a.k.a. Paul Wenell, Jr.), a renowned native MC.

“Being a part of the Dream Warriors family has opened the door to many opportunities I likely wouldn’t have received if I weren’t a part of this team,” Tall Paul told Native Business Magazine. “I was doing well managing myself as an up-and-coming solo artist, but after joining Dream Warriors Management, there was immediate and considerable growth with regard to my entire music career. Whether it was networking, business, music or otherwise, everything just improved. I’m now able to spend more time on my personal life outside of music as a result.”

Winder often speaks about “indigenizing” their business. That’s why Dream Warriors takes weekend-long retreats to discuss long-term planning. Retreats are more conducive to conversation and collaboration, she thinks. Currently up for discussion is formalizing Dream Warriors as a nonprofit or LLC. While still an informal collective, the crew is successfully receiving grants through fiscal sponsors for their Heal It Tour and other initiatives.

“Now that we have some time from the first leg of the Heal It tour, we can talk about what went well, and what are other opportunities for growth. How can we better engage the communities we’re in and that we visit? We also offer scholarship, so we continue to talk about that,” Winder said.

The Dream Warriors Scholarship that Winder refers to exists “for up-and-coming Indigenous artists coming from backgrounds like us,” Waln explained to Native Business Magazine. “For me, this is a prime example of how Dream Warriors helps elevate my personal brand and business, because my brand/business is rooted in Indigenous values of giving back to community and thinking of future generations. I wouldn’t have been able to do this alone. Collectively, Dream Warriors is about using our gifts to rebuild nations post genocide. We find new and creative ways to do this together—whether it be through the scholarship, or onstage when we perform together. We’re able to split the work equally when we’re in community together, because we all bring something unique and powerful to the table.”

In two weeks, Dream Warriors will continue the Heal It Tour in South Dakota, visiting schools on the Rosebud Reservation in Yankton, followed by schools in Rapid City on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In April, they’ll head to the Spirit Lake Reservation during suicide prevention week.

The Dream Warriors are very intentional about their approach to sensitive topics, ensuring schools have counselors on hand. “We make sure we say: If you are triggered, this is a person you can talk to at your school; here are resources in your area,” Winder said.

Part of being a responsible entrepreneur is researching the needs of the community, Winder emphasized. “Really invest that time in community needs assessment,” Winder recommends to other aspiring indigenous entrepreneurs.  

For indigenous youth and businesspeople desiring to cultivate confidence, Winder recommends seeking out a collective or mentors and leaning into your support system. “We all have that self-doubt. Am I good enough? Is this music good enough? Do people resonate with this? It’s nice to have supportive people who you look up to as artists be able to reflect back to you—‘that was good’—and to be able to give constructive feedback when you need it,” Winder said.

Winder recognizes that she and the Dream Warriors make an impact, even when youth don’t vocalize it. “You can tell,” she says. “If you can just reach one person, and help that one person on their path, then you’re doing what you’re meant to do.”

Winder’s five-year vision is to grow Dream Warriors into a thriving management company, in which “all artists have their needs met… they are performing enough and earning income to be able to sustain themselves,” she said.

Tall Paul, for one, believes Winder has the drive to make it happen. “Tanaya’s a trail blazer. She’s always getting us different professional development, media and performance opportunities. It seems like everywhere we go, she knows somebody, whether it’s in the U.S. or outside of the U.S. I’m glad I worked as hard as I did to put myself in a position to be noticed and valued by her, otherwise I might not have got the invite to be a part of this collective. It’s definitely been very beneficial to my career,” Tall Paul told Native Business Magazine.  

Dream Warriors currently boasts a graphic designer, web designer, and Winder handles the booking. Winder hopes to share her passion for organization and management with other indigenous people, too. “I love checking emails, I love scheduling, I love doing stuff like that. And I know there are other people who would like doing that, too. I would eventually like to have interns, people who I could eventually pay to learn how to do this, if they want to be a manger someday, like a public speaker, a musician. How can I pass along this knowledge that I have? Because I don’t want to keep it all to myself.”

Ten years down the road, Winder envisions Dream Warriors having its own building where people can record their music and attend workshops. The space would house an indigenous library and coffee shop—“where local people can work there and make money,” Winder said. “That’s my long-term vision.”

And Winder considers visions a gift from Creator. “I think the key to making it work is just trusting that that dream has been placed in your heart for a reason,” Winder said.  

Waln leaves Native Business readers with a call to action: “Collectively, Dream Warriors are imagining and building a future business model rooted in Indigenous values of reciprocity, balance and healing rather than one rooted in colonial/western values. I encourage every Indigenous person reading this to find ways to root our daily work and passions in our respective Indigenous values. I think this is how we’ll create models and frameworks for success that will help heal our communities and move us forward as nations.”

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