Tradition and business: Native American entrepreneurs discuss heritage and commerce

A panel discussion at the Conversations on the Creative Economy event
Veronica Veaux, an assistant professor in Bemidji State’s business department and a co-owner of DomiNative Development, speaks about her work at the MPR’s Conversations on the Creative Economy event held Thursday evening at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center.
Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer

By Jordan Shearer via Bemidji Pioneer

For a number of leading Native business people, their heritage is an active part of their careers.

Minnesota Public Radio recorded a panel discussion Thursday at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji as part of its series Conversations on the Creative Economy.

The broadcast will be aired at noon and again at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

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The Native American entrepreneurship panel touched on a number of aspects related to the intersection of the panelists’ careers and their identities as Native Americans, as well as how they’re addressing some of the broader issues within the Native community overall.

Chris Farrell, who hosted the discussion, said Thursday’s panel was the inaugural conversation for the sixth season of Conversations on the Creative Economy. Farrell said they were able to bring together a diverse group of entrepreneurs to speak on the topic.

“We’d been wanting to do it for a long time,” Farrell said.

Four panelists spoke during the recording, who all hail from Native communities across the region.

  • Michael Laverdure is a partner with DSGW Architects and president of the planning firm First American Design Studio. He is from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

  • Sarah Agaton Howes is an artist, teacher and community organizer. She also owns the business House of Howes, which makes custom beadwork and regalia. She is from the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota.

  • Veronica Veaux is a professor of business at Bemidji State and co-owner of DomiNative Development, which is “devoted to advancing multi-sport competitiveness,” according to a release. She from the Leech Lake Band.

  • Madonna Yawakie is a co-founder of TICOM, which provides telecommunication services to Native nations. Like Laverdure, she is from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Agaton Howes spoke about how Native communities don’t have to abandon their traditional aspects of their culture to be successful in business.

“We can do business in a way that still stays in line with our values, and still builds our culture,” Agaton Howes said. “We can take and converge all the parts of ourselves into our businesses… we are people who live at that confluence of tradition and (the) contemporary.”

Laverdure reiterated that concept, saying his heritage is not only connected to his career, but actively informs the way he approaches the day-to-day problems.

“When I practice architecture, I’m actually practicing it from an Indigenous mindset,” Laverdure said. “If you start out with an Indigenous mindset to a solution and a problem, it changes the end result.”

The discussion, however, also touched on how to spur even more Native entrepreneurship. Laverdure said it’s important to be seen and that he hopes to inspire Native youth who may have never thought about a career in architecture or another profession.

Both Veaux and Yawakie spoke of the need to take personal ownership. Veaux said people need to start taking the leaps that will propel them forward.

“That, to me, is the problem: that there’s not enough people going out there and taking that risk and taking that step forward for themselves and their families and the communities,” Veaux said.