Navajo-Owned Businesses Petition to Repurpose Vacant BIA Buildings for Native Small Businesses

Change Labs’ petition asks  Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Arizona) to request congressional funds to clean up vacant BIA buildings and repurpose them for Navajo and Hopi small businesses. The campaign info is here: https://nativestartup.org/biacleanup. (Raymond Chee)

Native entrepreneurs and artists are collaborating to request funds to clean up the asbestos from BIA buildings on the Navajo Nation to repurpose them for local business owners.

Two Navajo-owned businesses, Change Labs and Hundred Storms Creative, are leading a public call to action to clean-up vacant federal buildings for Navajo and Hopi-owned businesses.

Although the Navajo Nation possesses the largest Tribal land mass in the United States—roughly 27,000 square miles—most of that land is off-limits to Navajo people and businesses. More than 90 percent of reservation land belongs to the U.S. government, held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). 

Tommy Greyeyes, founder of Hundred Storms Creative and an interdisciplinary Diné artist, paints on a black-and-white photography mural to support the conversion of vacant BIA infrastructure for Navajo and Hopi small businesses. (Raymond Chee)

Less than 1 percent is “fee land,” land owned by individuals who can freely sell it or build on it. Getting permission to access land or physical space to do business can take months or even years on the Navajo Nation. As a result, most entrepreneurs give up and limit their dreams to roadside stands, flea-market stalls, or working from remote homes.

“The invisibility of Native American owned businesses who have to operate from their home has a detrimental impact on our economy,” says Heather Fleming (Diné/Navajo), Executive Director at Change Labs. 

The Navajo Nation loses an estimated $216 million annually in sales tax revenue to off-reservation spending. 

New art installations advocates for infrastructure for local Navajo businesses. (Raymond Chee)

“The invisibility of Native businesses also means that the 600,000+ tourists traveling across the reservation eat their meals at chain establishments, purchase Native American jewelry in border town galleries, and pay for tours led by non-Native people,” adds Flemining. 

Industrious Native people are key to disrupting this model, Change Labs states. 

Change Labs has partnered with Navajo-owned Hundred Storms Creative to bring visibility to this injustice. In late July, Change Labs and Hundred Storms Creative put up two biodegradable installations on one of the largest BIA buildings on Main Street and the vacant Van’s Trading Post on Highway 160. 

Both installations feature black and white photography of Navajo and Hopi entrepreneurs working from home and are reminders of the hundreds of Native American entrepreneurs in Native communities who are otherwise invisible to the outside community.

Change Labs and Hundred Storms Creative are encouraging Four Corners residents and visitors to spend their dollars at local Native American businesses to help them grow — find them on RezRising.org. Readers can also sign the petition asking Arizona Congressman O’Halleran to request congressional funds to clean up vacant BIA buildings and repurpose them for Navajo and Hopi small businesses. 

New art installations feature black and white photography of Navajo and Hopi entrepreneurs. (Raymond Chee)

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