“Wall Street was invented to keep certain people out. That wall is gone, and we are back,” announced Dennis Smith, co-founder of NativeOne Institutional Trading, on his way to ring the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) floor.
The Thursday, August 25 event marked a momentous occasion: the firm officially became the first American Indian-owned member of the NYSE. The room filled with applause when NativeOne's co-founders and tribal representatives rang the closing bell.
Nearly 30 tribal representatives from Indian Nations across North America traveled to New York City to attend the ceremony. Outside the Exchange, artists from the Redhawk Native American Arts Council performed traditional Indian dances and music for the public. “We performed our traditional pow wow dancing—men’s and women’s traditional, fancy dance, grass dance and jingle dance,” said Larry Ahenakew, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana.
Moments before ringing the bell, Smith thanked the attendees and singled out one tribe. “We want to thank the Shinnecock Nation for allowing us to have such a great time in your aboriginal homelands."
New York City is the ancestral backyard of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which gained federal acknowledgement last October after 32 years of bureaucratic and legal snafus, becoming the 565th federally recognized tribe in the country. “Our hunting and trading grounds ran from Montauk [Long Island] to Manhattan,” Frederick C. Bess, a Shinnecock Trustee, told Indian Country Today Media Network outside the Exchange.
NativeOne Institutional Trading was co-founded in 2009 by Don Lyons, member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and Smith, a Wall Street veteran since 1976.
“Financial literacy is the most important area Indian Country needs to grow in,” Lyons told ICTMN. “It is the most substantial step for Indian Country to be able to trade on par with the rest of the world. It brings it to a new level of prominence.”
Lyons mission in starting NativeOne with Smith was to level the playing field for all Indian tribes and establish trust with a firm that understands and respects Indian culture and values. Lyons grew up on the Morongo Band of Mission Indian’s reservation at the foot of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains in Banning, California. The formerly poor community is now prosperous thanks to its lucrative Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa in Cabazon, California, which employs about 3,000 people. The tribe also owns a golf course, restaurants, one of the United States’ largest Shell gas stations and a $26 million spring water-bottling plant.
Lyons’ goal in launching NativeOne was to help tribes in various stages of economic development manage and grow their wealth.
The firm, which debuted on Wall Street on December 28, 2010, also gives a portion of its commissions back to the American Indian community in the form of scholarships, internships, job training and other charitable causes.
“One of our primary focuses is we are a broker-dealer who gives back,” explained Tiani D. Osborn, a NativeOne partner and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. “We also have two Navajo interns from Dartmouth,” she added, noting that American Indians are “totally unrepresented in the industry"—a gap NativeOne intends to bridge.
“I’m learning the investment side of the business right now,” Nic Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation and 2011 graduate from Dartmouth College completing his six-week internship at NativeOne, told ICTMN. Benally advises his fellow Native youth to aim high. “Make goals and stick to them—it’s all about perseverance.”
Among the prominent American Indian representatives at the NYSE was Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who remembers how the NYSE operated before brokers traded stocks and bonds on computers. “People were running around throwing paper,” Shelly told ICTMN. “There’s no trash on the floor anymore,” he joked.
Shelly referenced the wall built by Dutch colonists in 1653 in lower Manhattan to block British and American Indian invaders from the New Amsterdam settlement.
“A little ways from here, they used to keep Native Americans out. Now we can walk across. We’re in the market now; Indians are here,” Shelly told ICTMN. “This is the first Native-owned company to join the New York Stock Exchange, but I assure you it will not be the last. There will be more–maybe even a Navajo one.”
NativeOne will open the stock market and financial world to tribes in both Canada and the United States. “We have the opportunity here today at the NYSE to literally show that we can do that by being the first Native American-owned broker-dealer that’s a member of the NYSE,” Smith told NYSE Euronext. “We also have under the holding company umbrella the ability to do all of the insurance products for institutions in Indian Country as well as not, and we also have the green energy renewable NativeOne Energy Group, investment banking for refinancing and financing projects in Indian Country and around the world.”
At the ceremony, Smith also announced NativeOne's new partnership to ICTMN, shaking on the deal. "NativeOne has strategically partnered with Incapital [LLC] to offer complete fixed income and government securities to all our Native, First Nations and institutional clients."