Native Business Executive Editor Carmen Davis (Makah/Chippewa-Cree/Yakama) reflects on entrepreneurship as a vehicle for self-sufficiency as well as generational and cultural prosperity in our weekly “From the Editor.”
Pivotal to our mission at Native Business since day one has been showcasing Indigenous entrepreneurs, giving voice to their why, highlighting their avenues to access to capital, revealing their challenges, and sharing their advice for aspiring business founders and future generations.
So when we watched the music video for Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z’s new single “Entrepreneur,” it hit home. It reflected back to us what we aim to inspire and empower across Indian Country — entrepreneurs asserting their financial independence.
Jay-Z and Pharrell spotlight entrepreneurship as a vehicle for self-resilience and sovereignty, a narrative we preach constantly at Native Business.
The video features a series of entrepreneurs creating legacy and generational prosperity. Each one is doing their work to leave their community better than when they entered it. “Entrepreneur” celebrates business acumen across the board from bike-shop owners and street vendors to entrepreneurs of fame, like Tyler, the Creator, and Issa Rae.
Representation like this is vital and encouraging. Similarly, Native Business shines a light on the microcosm of entrepreneurship across Indian Country. This month alone, we featured a food truck founder, a coffeehouse owner, a woodworker, the founding CEO of an economic development corporation, the founder of a law firm, two tech entrepreneurs, the founder of a personnel security firm, a gallerist, and a water protector in emergency management.
Listening to Jay-Z and Pharrell’s lyrics caused us to reflect on the parallel between the struggles of the Black and Native communities — their ongoing battle to escape the shadow of slavery and systemic racism and discrimination, and ours, with land theft, cultural genocide, racial stereotyping and perceived invisibility. Both feed socioeconomic poverty and hopelessness.
A few of Pharrell and Jay-Z’s verses stood out, exemplifying the similarities between burdens faced by Blacks and Natives, like this one about having the odds stacked against you:
In this position with no choice
A system imprison young black boys
Distract with white noise
On reservations across Indian Country, entrenched poverty due to forced relocation and historical trauma has fueled mindsets of “no choice” and “no hope.” That sense of defeated-before-you-even-begin is something my husband Gary “Litefoot” Davis and I have fought to topple, heal and re-seed with messages of empowerment for decades. As an entrepreneur, I understand all the normal business challenges and obstacles and also the difficulties in getting our own people to support and buy from those who look like we do. We often don’t fully and truly realize the shackles of oppression attached to us until the moment comes when we attempt to stand up and move forward to escape that cyclical bondage and “get free.” It is in that make it or break it moment that we need to be encouraged and supported more than ever.
Native Business is one of our current businesses doing just that. Through my two-plus decades of hard work as an entrepreneur I know what staying the course and fighting to accomplish your dreams has meant to myself and my husband. The sense of accomplishment that comes with being able to endure and not give up and subsequently benefit from the fruits of your own labor are empowering and game changing. We want others to feel that same feeling and be empowered as well! We believe that a sense of responsibility amplifies with each chapter of life, and we’re fulfilling ours now: advocating for sovereign resilience and economic revival through promoting entrepreneurship and business proliferation across Indian Country.
Pharrell and Jay-Z’s lyrics also draw attention to the underrepresentation of Black people in media. Meanwhile, non-Native people are still playing Native roles in Hollywood to this day.
Uh, lies told to you, through YouTubes and Hulus
Shows with no hues that look like you do
The rap moguls further amplify Black pride with lyrics such as:
Black nation, black builder, black entrepreneur
You in the presence of Black Excellence and I’m on the board
That’s the same thing we stand for within our “Red” communities, advocating for Native entrepreneurs, Indigenous entrepreneurs, Native excellence, Native pride.
Watch the full “Entrepreneur” video by Pharrell feat. Jay-Z:
One of the entrepreneurs Native Business featured this week speaks specifically to self-determination in spite of adverse circumstances. Facebook Product Designer Danielle Forward, who also founded Natives Rising, tells us she grew us “resource-poor.” A member of the Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians (Makahmo Pomo) in northern California, she worked to pay her way through college. It took her 10 years to earn her BFA at California College of the Arts.
But defying the odds requires we do the best with the hand we’re dealt. “Privilege places us at different points in life,” Forward says. “But doing the most with what you have, being resourceful, being optimistic and patient with yourself — that can be life changing.”
Entrepreneurship is life-changing. It’s also community-changing. It catalyzes self-determination, because you’re all in — 100% committed to the impact of your business and your financial success. But it doesn’t begin and end with you. Entrepreneurship has a ripple effect. It creates a new reality for you and your family. It uplifts your team members and their families. It supports the vendors you do business with. It bolsters your greater community by driving economy and circulating money locally.
Entrepreneurship seeds generational prosperity and a community-wide resurgence through demonstrating to others, and to future generations, what’s possible. Entrepreneurship is also, importantly, one of the most traditional activities we as Native people can engage in; just like our ancestors did all across Turtle Island since time immemorial.
In celebration of Native entrepreneurs everywhere, and being the change.