Promoting Small Business Saturday and ‘Buy Local’ Initiatives in Tribal Communities 

The grand opening celebration for the new Bashas’ Diné Market in Sanders, Arizona, on April 2, 2019, concluded with a ceremonial ribbon cutting with the President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, and Vice President Myron Lizer. (Courtesy Navajo Nation)

Currently, more than 30 million small businesses operate across the United States, and an estimated two out of three new jobs in the economy are created by small businesses.

Small Business Saturday is observed today, Saturday, November 30th, a day to support small business owners, the backbone of local economies. 

For small businesses across America and Indian Country to thrive, the environment and culture that they exist in must encourage their success. When local governments and the community promote consumer spending at local businesses, rather than leaking money to outside corporations, it keeps entrepreneur-driven economies alive.  

That model is exemplified by the Navajo Nation, among other Tribal communities across the country. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer are committed to supporting Native entrepreneurs and Native-owned businesses. 

One particularly creative way that they chose to promote reservation entrepreneurship is through “Buy Navajo, Buy Local,” a movement that encourages Navajo people to commit to purchasing goods on reservation, rather than sending money to border towns.

“‘Buy Navajo, Buy Local’ is self-resiliency at its best,” Vice President Lizer told Native Business. “It’s self-government. We challenge our people to recognize that they control their destiny, and when they change their purchasing decisions daily, it could lead to economic viability.”

An accomplished entrepreneur himself, Lizer underscored during his keynote speech at the Native Business Summit in May 2019 that entrepreneurship is innate within Indigenous people and “Indianpreneurship” or the private sector is necessary to grow thriving reservation economies. (The 2nd Annual Native Business Summit will take place September 1st – 3rd, 2020, at Hard Rock Hotel Resort and Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.) 

Nez and Lizer are leveraging the potential to improve the lives of Navajo members by empowering them to understand the power of their collective dollars. 

“If you’re able to take care of yourself, then you’re able to have hope for yourself,” President Nez told Native Business. “I think it starts with the money that we may have in our wallet, and to utilize that money in our community, on our Nation, to help jumpstart the larger economy here. If we can reteach that and start with this initiative, which would be ongoing throughout the year, it will give our Navajo people an understanding of how powerful our dollar is here on our Nation.

“We’re able to push a lot of the social ills off our Nation if we can just reframe or change the way we think,” Nez said. “We want to grow our own businesses and our own entrepreneurs, and the more we can keep our dollar here on the Nation, the better off we will be in the future.”

Lizer describes the “Buy Navajo, Buy Local” initiative as a vital step in the right direction, and one that is fundamental to his and Nez’s long-term strategy for the Nation. Even though the initiative by itself may not be a panacea, he says that it will enhance the Nation’s tax base and generate more for future development. And in making progress toward both of these goals, they lay the groundwork for further activity.

“We need to look and turn over every stone of opportunity,” Lizer said. “You know as well as I know that there’s billions of dollars out there, and I’ve always said that money is kind of like electricity: it flows through the path of least resistance. For those that have it, they want to keep it or they want to invest in new opportunities, and we’ve definitely got a lot of opportunities on the Navajo Nation and much more in Indian Country.”