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Native American-run Businesses Spur Economic Growth

Travel & Leisure

Many people don’t know much about Native Americans, even though their contributions to society are significant. And that’s especially true when it comes to the world of business; in some states, Native American-run businesses employ thousands of people and generate millions in revenue. In Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation paid $318 million to employees in 2011, and counting auxiliary affiliated jobs, that total was about $528 million.

Following are some of the more prominent Native American businesses:

Technology

Cetan Corp, a technology company based in Virginia, was number 119 on Inc. 5000’s list of top companies in 2011. The company specializes in software solutions and professional tech services and was started by Brad Scott, an entrepreneur of Chickasaw descent. The company name, Cetan, is taken from the Native American mythological figure Chetan, a messenger and observer.

Cetan’s clients include Jo-Ann Fabrics, Weight Watchers, Wendy’s, Sony Pictures, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Library of Congress and Department of Veteran Affairs.

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Technology is an area in which more Native American-run businesses are emerging. The Cherokee Nation’s technology division, for instance, offers a number of professional services, including government and business technology solutions.

Chocolate

Evidence found on pottery in New Mexico indicates that Native Americans were consuming imported chocolate from 1,200 miles away centuries before European settlers reached North American shores. As some of this country’s first connoisseurs of chocolate, it’s fitting that the natives of the Chickasaw Nation operates its own chocolate company, Bedré Fine Chocolate, and its retail locations in Ada and Pauls Valley, Okla.

Bedré Fine Chocolate’s most recent product line called “Champoli” – the Chickasaw word for “sweet” – pays homage to the owners’ roots. The line combines chocolate with native Chickasaw foods, like roasted corn and pecans. And, with the Pauls Valley location doubling as a welcome center, the chocolate is an ingenious way to draw in passers-by, who may be interested in learning more about the Chickasaw culture.

Wine

Native Americans’ agricultural expertise saved early European settlers from starvation, and today, that same expertise is being applied in vineyards to produce boutique wines. Here are a few Native American-run wineries:

  • Elk Prairie Vineyard in Myers Flat, Calif., is run by Alan Estrada and his wife, Sandra. The trade was passed down by Alan’s ancestors, members of the San Luis Rey tribe.
  • Native Vines Winery in Lexington, N.C., bills itself as the first Native American-owned-and-operated winery in the U.S. The winery is run by Darlene Gabbard, a Lumbee Tribe member, and her husband, Nick.
  • The Mattaponi Winery in Spotsylvania, Va., is native-run and bears the name of an area tribe, though winery-owner Janette Evans, who operates the business with husband Mike, is of Cherokee descent.

Native Americans influence multiple areas of commerce, some on a larger scale than others. Like many U.S. businesses, most Native American-run companies maintain a local or regional focus, while others, like Cetan Corp, are gaining national recognition. It’s clear that these businesses are extremely important in terms of revenue and creating jobs.

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  1. As the former director of the U.S. General Services Administration Native American Business Center, we recognized that Tribal Nations have the ability to create sustainable economies and create quality jobs faster than individuals, state and local governments. I have shared this concept with Oklahoma legislators and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and all agree that Tribes are the key to economic growth within the State, but the failure to recognize the need to develop a partnership with Tribal Nations continue to slow the progress.

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