In 1988, Duane Kuntz, Hunkpapa Lakota, was watching television in his
apartment in Tucson, Ariz., when the telephone rang. His mother was calling
from North Dakota. "I think you've had enough fun riding your motorcycle
around the country," he recalled her saying. "You've been out of high
school for a while, and it's time to get a real job."
They hung up on a good note, and Kuntz glanced at the television. An
advertisement for a course in CADD, or computer-assisted drafting and
design, was playing. He'd enjoyed drafting classes in high school and
decided that it was a sign. He hopped on his motorcycle, rode over to the
technical college that had run the ad, and enrolled.
"Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if a different ad had
been running," he said with a laugh.
Even before he graduated, he was able to land a job in what was then a
fledgling industry. He's been in the business ever since. "I got in on the
leading edge of something few people were doing at the time," he said.
He worked in Pittsburgh for a while, then moved back to North Dakota in
1995 in order to be near his mom and his roots; he also wanted to bring up
his daughters close to their heritage.
For the last five years, Kuntz has run his own CADD firm in Bismarck.
Called Ohitika Designs (www.ohitikadesigns.com), its clients include
architects, engineers, construction companies and builders. Sometimes he
produces just the plans for a project; in other cases, he manages the
entire endeavor - from finding an architect to creating the design through
hiring a construction company to execute it. Going forward, he is
considering bringing an architect on staff so he can direct more ventures
from beginning to end.
About half of his work is in Indian country. "I've done something-housing,
cultural centers, community centers, casinos - on most reservations in the
Western states," said Kuntz, who was born in Fort Yates and is enrolled on
the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. "I also do non-Indian commercial
projects, like office buildings."
The poor economy of recent years has had some effect on his business. "The
economy has been hit hard by money spent on the war," he pointed out.
"That's meant cuts. And, of course, Indian projects are some of the first
to be cut." To smooth out the ups and downs of owning a business, he does
drafting in-house at a local architectural firm.
Word-of-mouth recommendations bring in most of Ohitika Designs' jobs.
"That's the best kind of marketing," he said. "I get a few calls from
people who found me in the phone book, and I respond to requests for
proposals from tribes and various government entities, but personal
referrals result in about 90 percent of what I do."
Five years ago, when Kuntz was thinking about leaving the CADD firm where
he was an employee and starting his own shop, he worried about the risks.
Small-business owners are free to take on the work they like best and do it
the way they think it should be done, but they also have a very real
opportunity to lose everything. Then there was the up-front investment for
Kuntz to consider: A CADD business requires a high-end computer and
printer, along with expensive software that must be updated every year or
Kuntz went to his mentor, Bismarck architect Arnold Hanson, and asked,
"Should I go for it?" Hanson responded by giving Ohitika Designs its first
To get in line for work that the federal government sets aside for
minority-owned businesses, Kuntz applied for an 8 (a) classification from
the Small Business Administration. The designation, which he received in
2002, has helped him find projects such as an office building addition that
he's currently designing and building in Montana for the Bureau of Land
He anticipates more of these jobs; however, getting to this point has been
difficult and, at times, frustrating. "The paperwork took months," he said.
Kuntz summed it up: "You're dealing with the federal government."
To offset the challenges of his work life, Kuntz takes advantage of an
important perk of being a small business owner. He's his own boss, so he
can easily take time off to be with family. "We do plenty of camping,
fishing and horseback riding," he said. "This past summer, my daughters had
the time of their life riding horses around North Dakota, South Dakota and
Montana." In some cases, the family's activities have been spiritual in
nature, including participating in ceremonies and the memorial ride from
Standing Rock to Wounded Knee. And Kuntz still occasionally hits the road
on his Harley.
"When I was younger, I was lost, not knowing which direction to take in the
road of life. Life is a circle, and now that I'm back home, I've found what
I was looking for," he said.
This fall brought Kuntz a new adventure that reminds him of how his career
started. He began teaching CADD courses to students taking a construction
course at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. The undergraduates
have been thrilled to develop their skills, and Kuntz has found their
"They get fired up," he said. "I tell them that CADD is great - they're
going to learn a lot and really rock and roll - but that they should also
think about going to graduate school to become architects. Sometimes you
need someone to tell you it's OK to shoot for the stars."