In our weekly “From the Editor,” Native Business Executive Editor Carmen Davis (Makah/Chippewa-Cree/Yakama) speaks to your responsibility to tell your story and reclaim Indigenous representation.
If there’s one piece of advice I give to Native entrepreneurs, it’s “tell your own story.”
Who are you waiting for? If you don’t share your truth first, and you’re wondering why Native American issues and Indigenous-owned businesses don’t receive fair representation in the national media and conversation, then you are your own hurdling block.
We are responsible for owning our worth and telling our own stories. We are responsible for reclaiming our narratives by demonstrating our value and competencies.
It’s challenging. Oppression has led to stifling and limiting our ability to proudly proclaim our value. The boarding school era caused a purposeful white-washing and self-policing of Indian Country as a way to control and manage the “Indian Problem.” Historical trauma, in its totality, continues to manifest itself via a self-inflicted repression that’s mostly directed internally at ourselves — but also, and unfortunately, onto those in our own communities. That very non-traditional behavior is then projected onto younger generations across Indian Country. While we are very aware of the forces of oppression we see directed at us from the outside, we often do not recognize the lateral oppression that has become just as prevalent today. If we want future generations to do things differently and ultimately achieve more, then they should see as many of us TODAY achieving and lifting each other up as is possible. That literally can’t happen often enough. Breaking these chains requires healing and recognizing our inherent worth and value — and then sharing that with the world. You are not a “sell out,” or “acting better than” someone when you recognize and own your gifts, talents, hard work and success. Rather, you are exactly the end result hoped for by those who walked this earth before us. When you shine your light to the world, our ancestors bask in that glow.
The founder of Ah-Shí Beauty is doing just that. Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere, Diné, created her beauty brand to give Native American women representation in the luxury beauty market. She claimed a seat at the table in an industry that often gives lip-service to diversity without truly understanding or honoring Indigenous cultures.
Harper’s Bazaar took notice. The publication, which in July appointed a black editor-in-chief for the first time in its 153-year-history, featured Ah-Shí Beauty as one of six “Beauty Game Changers” in its September issue showcasing Rihanna on the cover. As LaFrance-Chachere posted on social media, “When the world sees Ah-Shí Beauty, they see my reservation, they see my people across Turtle Island.”
READ MORE: First Black Editor of Harper’s Bazaar Shines a Light on Indigenous-Owned Ah-Shí Beauty
This is the kind of reclamation I’m talking about. Indigenous business owners redefining how mass media and society see and thus perceive Indigenous people.
Harper’s Bazaar didn’t reach out to LaFrance-Chachere at the onset of her entrepreneurial journey. She had to work for it. She had to become the voice and megaphone for Indigenous beauty. Native Business first interviewed LaFrance-Chachere in July 2018, when Ah-Shí Beauty debuted online at ahshibeauty.com.
Ah-Shí is the Diné phrase for “this is me.” Ah-Shí Beauty translates to “This is my beauty.” Everyday, LaFrance-Chachere is living her purpose: to empower people of color. She is actively sharing her story as a half Diné and half African American woman entrepreneur, raised in Besh-Be-Toh on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona, with a luxury brand built on the Navajo Nation and flourishing worldwide.
If you don’t start telling your story, who will? Answer: most likely no one.
The Internet and social media have democratized the playing field. If you have access to the Internet, there’s no excuse not to share your story and promote what you do.
Twenty years ago, my husband Gary Davis (Cherokee Nation) and I launched our e-commerce website for Native Style Clothing. At that time, it cost $50,000 to build a website with a robust backend capable of conducting business online. Today through WordPress, Square or Wix, you can launch a site for free, or pay very little overhead for additional tools and plug-ins. You can leverage existing platforms like Etsy, Shopify, EBay and social media to sell your products directly to consumers. The playing field is becoming more and more levelled and subsequently, there are more and more ways for you to “get in the game” — no matter where you live.
Gary and I also take full responsibility for sharing our story, as you can see on the About page of Native Style. You should begin sharing your story too!
READ MORE: From EdTech to Coffee Shops: Businesses to Start During a Recession
Entrepreneurship relies on agility, innovation and economies of scale — and the Internet is your vehicle. Of course, it all comes back to telling your story. At Native Business, we showcase Indigenous entrepreneurs across Indian Country. But it all begins with them telling their story. In most cases, the entrepreneurs we feature have already established a digital footprint. They know their purpose — and they communicate it. We amplify it.
READ MORE: 10 Tips From Native Business Founders & Leaders for Up-and-Coming Entrepreneurs
If you’re an aspiring or current Indigenous entrepreneur, ask yourself these questions, and then share it with the world: “Why do you do what you do? What is unique about your products or services? Why should someone do business with you versus doing business with somebody else?”
Talk about the great things that you’re able to do and your competencies, capabilities and bandwidth. Share your successes! Each and every time they occur.
You are your greatest storyteller.
If you have a story to tell, tell it.