The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Retail sector is Stephan Cheney.
Stephan Cheney, a 29-year-old Lakota entrepreneur, hunts for wood around his Northern California home to make his signature furniture. “I am self-educated and it all starts with the belief, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that!’” Cheney told Native Business.
Cheney has worked with many different types of wood, including birch, madrone, redwood (from his own backyard), maple, cedar, Douglas fir, pine, oak, eucalyptus, Chechen, cherry and walnut. “Whenever I am working with any piece, I am doing it in a prayerful way and offer up tobacco. As indigenous people, we have a relationship with trees, so I am thanking the wood for the gift it is giving and whatever it might become next,” Cheney said.
Cheney made his first dining table because his Relatives were sitting on the ground when they came over to visit him and his wife.
The self-taught furniture artist has since grown his product inventory. To date, he has created dining tables, coffee tables, benches, cutting boards, serving trays, spoons, paddles and eel hooks, a traditional fishing tool. He says it can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to complete a project, depending on the complexity and size of the piece.
The Lakota Native’s dream is to one day have his own wood shop and create furniture in a much larger capacity “than what I am able to do right now in my little laundry room.”
To get there, he knows he needs to follow his own advice: “It takes knowing ourselves and believing in ourselves to really grow,” he says.
For now, he is content “bringing new life to wood” when he is not working full-time for Seventh Generation Fund as the special assistant to the president.