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Symposium to Address Economic Development, Entrepreneurship on Wind River Reservation and Across Wyoming

James Trosper, director of University of Wyoming’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute. (Photo Courtesy: Jackson Tisi / University of Wyoming)

An inaugural symposium in Wyoming focused on economic development and entrepreneurship will act as a bridge between the two Tribes at the Wind River Reservation and the powerful conversations about economic diversification happening at the University of Wyoming and across the state.

The inaugural WY-Wind River: Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Symposium kicks off at the University of Wyoming (UW) campus on Wednesday April 17, 2019. The President of the University and Wyoming Laurie Nichols and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon will provide introductory remarks.

In addition to driving critical discussions and economic diversification, the symposium will serve as a platform to launch the new $50,000 Wind River Entrepreneurship Competition and the Wind River Research Micro-Grant Project.

Diversifying Wyoming’s Economy

A keynote panel at the symposium will focus on key business sectors for economic diversification in the state — as identified by the ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) task force.

ENDOW — an initiative launched by Governor Matt Mead in November 2016 — created a comprehensive approach to diversify the Wyoming economy. The symposium seeks to apply these concepts to both Wyoming and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Wind River is highly dependent on agriculture, and particularly cattle, Trosper noted. Oil and gas is another vital sector.

“At the symposium, an ENDOW executive council member will explain why the task force chose certain sectors to diversify the state economy, and what it takes to break into those business industries,” Tropser said, adding that there will be a focus on how the Tribes and the State of Wyoming can work together.  

Keynote Speakers

Gary Davis (Cherokee), Executive Director of the Native American Financial Services Association and publisher of Native Business Magazine, will deliver the keynote speech at the symposium.

Wyoming Senator Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), a Navajo Tribal member, will moderate a panel discussion on entrepreneurship featuring Arapaho and Shoshone leaders.

Following the keynote, Davis will join Wyoming Senator Affie Ellis (Navajo) in moderating a panel discussion by Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho leaders including Jerad Stack, Cy Lee, Orville St. Clair, Scott Ratliff, Art Lawson, and the Honorable Rep. Andi Clifford.

Trosper is excited that Rep. Andi Clifford will participate on the panel. Recently elected to Wyoming’s House of Representatives, “the majority of her district represents the reservation,” Trosper noted.

Entrepreneurship Competition

The university and HPAIRI will use the symposium as a platform to launch the $50,000 Wind River Entrepreneurship Competition and the Wind River Research Micro-Grant Project.

The State of Wyoming is home to two Tribes — the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho — and the Wind River Reservation is the only reservation in the state.

The Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have a long history of entrepreneurship across a large portion of the continent. The Arapaho were known as the “Phoenicians of the Plains” for their multi-year trade journeys ranging between the southwest and the northern plains, while the Shoshone introduced the horse to northern Tribes, and were key players in the Rocky Mountain fur trade and rendezvous of the 1830s.

“Both Tribes were wealthy by anyone’s standards,” Trosper said.

Entrepreneurial Tribal economies were disrupted by American expansion, culminating in the creation of the reservation system, Trosper explained. Federal policies restricted economic independence as a means of controlling Tribes and confining them to the reservation. For example, reservation agents issued rations to replace traditional hunting and trading activities, and then reduced those rations as punishment if Tribal members went outside the reservation boundaries. Such policies created an enduring cycle of poverty and dependence.

“With this entrepreneurship competition, we really want to change that mindset and culture,” Trosper said.

Trosper also hopes the symposium will encourage the Tribal communities to understand that change begins at the grassroots level, with individuals embracing entrepreneurship and releasing an attitude of dependency.

“We can’t sit around and wait for the business council to start all these businesses and wait for the rewards from that, we need to do it ourselves,” Trosper said.

HPARI hopes the symposium will activate a shift in consciousness even in people who don’t engage in the entrepreneurship competition. Trosper hopes other Tribal citizens consider: “Well if I were to get into that competition, what would I do? What kind of business would I create?”

“I’m hoping that our people will begin to think in a different way and want to break the cycle of dependency on the Tribal Council, on the state, and on the federal government. I hope that we can look at ways to start to provide for ourselves,” Trosper said.

Wind River Research Micro-grant Project

The entrepreneurship competition is just one tool to encourage people to see personal and economic empowerment in a new light. Symposium organizers will also announce the creation of a Wind River Research Micro-grants Project to encourage student research at reservation schools.

“We want students to understand that research isn’t this big, scary thing. It’s something simple that our people do every day. We want them to know and understand that they can do this,” Trosper said.

Edmund J. Synakowski, Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, at The University of Wyoming, states:

“Research and economic development can empower and lift individuals and communities by enlarging one’s own sense of capability and by promoting teamwork. An important part of the University of Wyoming’s mission is use the experience of research to educate students and to develop means of stimulating the economy through innovation. The Wind River Reservation, through the resources of the land and its people, have been important partners with UW in research. The potential for deepening the impacts in Wind River communities and on the UW campus through strengthened partnership in both research and economic development efforts is high.”

Trosper emphasized that Tribal-led research is vital, otherwise universities come to the reservation to tell Tribal people what is good for them.

“We need to let the universities know what areas we want the research done and really guide that process. So we’re trying to turn the tables around, and that’s going to put the Tribes and business councils in the driver’s seat in regards to research,” Trosper said.

Circle of Dance

This conclusion to the symposium demonstrates the American Indian contribution to Wyoming’s cultural arts and the creative economy — a sector identified in the ENDOW report as vital to economic development.

“The Wind River Reservation is strategically located,” Trosper explained. “It’s a roughly 40-minute drive between the reservation border and the border of Tekon Nation Park. Yellow Stone National Park and Grand Tekon National Park are really close. A lot of the tourists that travel to those parts have to cross the reservation, but we don’t have anything really structured here on the reservation in terms of tourism.”

Wyoming Humanities and HPAIRI chose to present “Circle of Dance” — a dynamic exhibition of dance, regalia, and music by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers — to showcase the rich Tribal cultures in Wyoming. Circle of Dance will beautifully demonstrate what Tribes have to offer in the way of arts & humanities and tourism.

A subsequent symposium will take place on the Wind River reservation. “This will be the first of hopefully many events,” said Trosper.

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