Skip to main content

RES points way to business success

LAS VEGAS - This year's Reservation Economic Summit (RES) kicked off with
the promise to provide "useful and cuttingedge information" to help all
American Indian businesses reach the pinnacle of success.

Judging by the enthusiasm attendees expressed during the four-day event,
RES accomplished its goal.

"Native Americans are infants in understanding the fundamentals of
business," remarked Silas Cleveland following a teaching session titled
Building a High Performance Business. "We are getting better at it, but we
are still students of business. We are still learning."

And like Cleveland, a 33-year-old executive accounts manager with the
Ho-Chunk Nation, others attending RES at the Las Vegas Hilton Feb. 7 - 10
came for the same reason: to network and take proven business strategies
home to their tribes.

Cleveland received a business degree from the University of Nebraska and
chose to return to and work for his tribe instead of entering corporate
America. He admits that there is added pressure in doing so, but it's a
direction in which many young American Indian entrepreneurs are headed.

According to the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development
(NCAIED), organizer of the 19th annual RES conference, more than 360,000
American Indian-owned businesses now exist in the U.S., up from 197,000 in
1997.

"RES provides an unprecedented opportunity to hear from some of the most
influential people driving business development in Indian country today,"
said NCAIED president and CEO Ken Robbins. "These speakers come equipped
with new and exciting ideas that will be immensely valuable to all who are
committed to continued business growth among our people and communities."

Since its debut in 1986 as an informal meeting place for American Indian
business leaders to exchange ideas, RES has grown into the largest and
longest-running business seminar and trade show for Native entrepreneurs.
Its purpose: to aim those wanting to start their own business in the right
direction and help them make the contacts for success.

As Don Kelin, NCAIED chairman, asked, "If we don't help our own people, why
should others?"

With the growth of Indian gaming, tribes now find themselves with more
capital to invest in other businesses. RES, through its series of seminars,
lays down the foundation for success.

"We need to learn from the good and learn from the bad," Phil Swain,
chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, told a breakfast crowd on
opening day. "Then, when you go back, you'll be an asset to your tribe."

This year featured four tracks with panel discussions on communication and
technology, effective procurement strategies in federal government
contracting, how the BIA can help tribes create prosperity and a seminar on
how to build a new business.

During one session, Leonard Greenhalgh, a professor of Management and
director of Executive Programs for Minority-and Women-Owned Business
Enterprises at Dartmouth College, walked future American Indian business
owners through the steps of getting their ideas off the ground.

Greenhalgh said to be successful, business owners need to be
forward-thinking, stay ahead of technology, be able to identify trends in
the marketplace and adapt to them rapidly. The three rules to live by: do
it better; do it different (find a niche market); and seek to gain customer
loyalty.

One who can testify to that is recently-resigned BIA Assistant Secretary
Dave Anderson, the featured keynote speaker on the summit's closing day.
Anderson, a widely-respected businessman who developed "Famous Dave's"
barbecue into a popular chain of restaurants, gave a bubbly and energetic
address meant to stir the crowd to act on their dreams.

After ordering everyone in the ballroom to their feet for an exercise which
included repeating a series of self esteem-building chants, Anderson told
his life story and challenged those in attendance to shoot for the stars
and "shine bright" in the business world.

"If you have dreams, they can come true," Anderson shouted. "As Indian
people, we can do incredible things on our reservations. We have come a
long way, but we still have a long way to go. If you always do what you're
going to do, you're going get what you're going to get.

"Strive for more. We will never be sovereign people until we are truly
economically independent."