Lyla June, Diné and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne), an internationally renowned public speaker, poet and musician, views business as intrinsic to indigenous values. She advocates for Native people to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for regenerative creation.
“Our people’s ecological practices have always been regenerative practices,” June explained. “Going out to harvest was a regenerative act. While harvesting, they were also seeding. The more we harvested, the better the forest did. There was never a tension between ‘myself’ and ‘an act of creation.’ Through harvest, we nourished the Earth.”
What does that look like in more practical terms? Businesses simultaneously generate jobs, while creating markets for other Native businesses. “Businesses can seed the ecology around them. ‘We’ and ‘them’ gets nourished through the conduit of the business,” June said.
June also views money as instrumental to success. “Money can be a tool for life. It can be a tool for creation,” she explained.
Native Business Magazine™ recently spoke with June about how entrepreneurship is integral to indigenous spirit and culture. “Regenerative, ecological techniques are replete throughout indigenous communities across Turtle Island,” June said.
Before June dives into the concept of “entrepreneurship,” she likes to deconstruct the word entrepreneur. “Preneur means to take, capture, or acquire. And entre means, in-between. The idea is that you are the taker, the capturer, and the acquirer between humanity and the Earth. You’re like the middle man, basically, and that is not congruent with the indigenous values of generosity, harmony, reciprocity and offering cultures that we come from,” June said.
“However, though the word entrepreneur has these very strange origins and was coined by a French economist whose idol was Adam Smith, that doesn’t mean that indigenous peoples can’t work the system as it is today in a good way.”
To illustrate her point, June prefers to explain in the form of story, in the tradition of her ancestors.
June was born and raised in Taos, New Mexico, in a small home that her father built by hand. “We had no toilets, just an outhouse; and no stove, just a hot plate. We were very poor, but very wealthy in connection to the Earth. We had horses and an orchard, and that’s kind of all I needed,” June recently relayed on the podcast “Awarepreneurs” about the intersection of conscious business, social impact and awareness practices.
Growing up, June was a strong student. However, she got into drugs and alcohol at the young age of 11. “I became an addict in my early teens, a very severe addict, but I was always one of those ‘functional addicts,’ getting my 4.0. I always had my eyes set on college,” she said.
June attended Stanford University at the age of 17, where she studied environmental anthropology and graduated with honors in 2012. She later went on to earn her Masters Degree in American Indian Education at the University of New Mexico.
“During my time at Stanford, I was an addict. At university, there’s alcohol flowing everywhere. It’s very normalized to drink frequently. I got into drug dealing. If you really want to know where my professional career started, it was drug dealing. I’m very sad about that, because I hurt a lot of people, and it’s something I have to deal with on a daily basis,” June admitted.
Her life changed after an earthquake experience in South America, while she was studying abroad. “I shattered my hip and three vertebrae. I had this really big awakening, and I was like, is this how I want to spend my life?” June said. “I had the great fortune of meeting some friends who really cared about me, really prayed for me, and offered me a job opportunity: to be in service to Creator, and I have been ever since. It’s been 8 years. I’ve been sober for 5 years,” she said.
Today, June serves as a graphic designer by trade, and she handles communications for a nonprofit in New Mexico called New Energy Economy, creating advertising materials, videos and even songs to express their mission. “Our goal is to replace the fossil fuel industry in New Mexico with solar power and renewable energy. It’s a fun job that makes me feel good, and I’m changing the world at the same time,” June said.
Only recently has June started speaking at institutions around the world. She’s still adjusting to her new career path. “This is new. I didn’t have this available to me until very recently. For whatever reason, my music videos have gone viral and my writing has been published in books. All of a sudden, people want to pay me to speak at universities all the time. And they want to pay me to go to music festivals, which to me is an honor. Who on Earth gets to sing for a living and speak on these topics for a living?” June asked.
June’s career is taking off. “I feel it burgeoning right now, and I’m just trying to hold on for the ride,” June said.
Meanwhile, she follows her purpose by connecting with her ancestors. “My mentors told me that I could hold the ancestors inside of me by walking in a very deliberate and specific way. There’s three conditions for the spirit to be able to sit inside you and move through you,” she said. “Don’t do it for money or fame, and don’t hurt yourself in the process of doing it.”
“It doesn’t matter where you are. It matters why you’re there,” June said. “As long as I’m walking with intention to heal Mother Earth and to heal the people and generations to come, then I’m always going to be right where I’m supposed to be. And that’s very liberating.”
In Diné tradition, June prays every morning, giving cornmeal to the Earth: “We offer a pinch of white cornmeal at dawn, and we say what we want to do that day, and that helps me set my day right every day.”