OPINION: Supporting Native-owned businesses will inspire generations to come

The Phoenix Suns court from last year's Originativ Nights, which highlighted Native American tribes in the state. (Photo by Levi Long/Phoenix Indian Center)

By Todd Sanders, Jolyana Begay-Kroupa

November 8, 2023

Yá’át’ééh! (Hello!)

This month marks Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich cultural heritage and histories of the 574 federally recognized Tribes in the United States. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have called this land home and engaged in trade with one another since time immemorial.

This month, the Greater Phoenix Chamber partnered with the Phoenix Indian Center to highlight the incredible impact Indigenous entrepreneurship can have on the Greater Phoenix region.

RELATED: Arizona has the third-highest Native American population of US states

Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized Tribes that have deep roots in the state’s history and continue to make an impact across various sectors, from entertainment to entrepreneurship. Of the more than 7 million Arizonans, 5.2% represent Indigenous communities, with nearly 35,000 Native Americans in the Phoenix area alone.

Prior to Arizona’s statehood, Indigenous peoples were stewards of this region who held various roles in their communities—some acted as entrepreneurs engaged in trade, while others were agriculturalists who tilled and sowed the land. Indigenous peoples traded objects from jewelry to medicine, cultivated farms, raised livestock, and built communities with canal systems we still rely on today. Those traditions remain for Indigenous people across Arizona and the larger United States.

Native American communities have long been absent from the larger narrative in the US economy, especially global economies. Supporting Native American enterprises does more than benefit the economy of the Greater Phoenix region; it is a chance to revitalize an inherent instinct among Indigenous peoples and inspires Indigenous youth to enter fields they are just beginning to see themselves in. Indigenous enterprises are making a presence.

Partnering with Native American communities is a pathway to establishing culturally diverse teams that can bring different perspectives, skills, and ideas to the table, enhancing problem-solving and decision-making processes. Furthermore, incorporating Indigenous voices through Native-owned businesses is an excellent opportunity to reclaim Indigenous culture and art to deliver culturally accurate works through the perspective of Indigenous peoples.

In 2022, the Phoenix Suns released their Phoenix Suns 22/23 City Edition Uniform to “celebrate Native American cultures and the passion for the game of basketball that connects us.” To create this new design, the Phoenix Suns collaborated with the Phoenix Indian Center, which engaged in brainstorming efforts and established initiatives to recruit and receive feedback from Native artists.

This collaboration would serve as a mutually beneficial partnership that allowed Native American culture to be highlighted in a way that would excite Native communities to entice further promotion of Native works and increase capital for the Phoenix Suns through an open market door in Indian Country. Opportunities to support Native American heritage mean expanding internship and employment opportunities or co-hosting events that can expand business reach employee skill sets and open new market opportunities.

Collaboration with Native American communities requires respect and understanding of Tribal autonomy and establishing genuine relationships to build a path to a brighter future for Arizonans and Indigenous people alike. Native American Heritage Month represents an opportunity to share and celebrate the diverse cultures, contributions, and stories of Native peoples. It is a chance to recognize a people’s history and inspire a future for generations to come.

Moving forward, let Arizona change the narrative and be a stepping stone for support of Native American business! Let it be a state that uplifts Native American communities by recognizing the strength and talent of Indian Country and the greater mutual economic benefits of supporting Indigenous-owned enterprises, starting with the Greater Phoenix region.

Ahéhee’ dóó! Happy Native American Heritage Month!

READ MORE: 7 must-try Arizona restaurants with Native American cuisine

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