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Yakama go-getter organizes first economic summit

TOPPENISH, Wash. - The Yakama Nation's first annual Economic Summit was planned to start out small. After all it is the tribe's first economic summit.

But then they hired Gloria Atwice Osborne to head up the tribe's tourism department. A natural-born promoter, Osborne took one look at the modest summit proposal, chucked it out the window and got to work. Soon she had people like Randy'L Teton, Shoshone-Bannock model for the Sacajawea coin, speaking about "Economic Development Through Museumology," and Valerie RedHorse, star of the movie "Naturally Native," lecturing on "Empowering Native People by Controlling Image and Finances."

Osborne also brought many national consultants on board talking about important issues like "Taxation Issues in Indian Country," "Zoning Issues and Land-Use Planning" and "Entrepreneurship with the Spirit of Tribal Tradition. " Keynote speakers will be Seattle consultant Rolfe Carawan and RedHorse.

The primary, stated objective is to provide a forum for leaders, educators, government agencies, politicians and other individuals interested in economic development in Indian country. But at the same time, Osborne has taken into account the fact that, nationwide, approximately 85 percent of reservation businesses are "mom and pop" operations.

To entice the moms and pops, the students and the grandparents, as well as the economic planners in Indian country, she has taken a practical, yet fun approach. The slightly flippant logo "Rez Biz" downplays the serious topics. And the summit is laced with enough eye-catching, thought-provoking forums to elicit responses from tribes and individuals as far away as Alaska.

"The main thing was to help our own tribal membership to develop our own local human resource pool," Osborne says. "So I got top name consultants to come in ... and spotlight the many advantages available for the private sector on any Indian reservation, given the latitudes of their zoning and taxation structures. And, of course, whatever kind of treaty they might have."

The two-day seminar will be at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center Complex on the Yakama Reservation, Aug. 17-18. Panel discussions such as "Tourism as an Economic Development Strategy" will run concurrently with workshops and seminars. The summit will also feature fun networking time with barbecues, a showing of "Naturally Native" and a pow wow.

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A walking, talking testimony to on-the-rez training, Osborne left the Yakama Reservation to work in Fort Hall, Idaho, on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation. Early on she got involved in community projects such as fund-raising, grant-writing and even promoting local dance troupes. Later she helped organize annual events for the tribe, such as the Shoshone-Bannock festival, rodeos and sports tournaments.

At the same time she ran her own business, Kamiakun Krafts, which has been in operation since 1974. She gained business experience as a bank loan officer.

Returning to Toppenish after 30 years, Osborne noticed the tourism coordinator job posted in the Yakama tribal offices in January. It was, she decided, a tailor-made position which she simply had to have. She got the job.

As a life philosophy, it is clear Osborne says, attitude is everything. The lack of a college degree has never held her back. Sales and promotion and good business deals just seem a natural part of her life, she says.

One of her favorite stories is about her very first sales job. She was born into a Yakama fishing family on the Columbia River. One day toward the end of the fishing season, the family hadn't sold any fish. Things looked pretty bad, she said, and it seemed like the family was going to go home broke.

"Me and my mom were sitting there, when this pink Cadillac come over the tracks," Osborne recalls. "And I ran down the road and I said, 'Hey, any of you white people want to buy a fish?' Anyway, that lady come over and bought all of our fish and became a lifelong friend. So that was my first real sales-marketing effort."

Osborne's approach seems to have varied little over the course of years. Direct, determined and light-hearted, instead of chasing after pink Cadillacs she's chasing up the talent around Indian country to help her own people gain a wider knowledge about economic opportunities they can develop in their own backyard.

"I love my people. I'm proud of my people and want to help my people," she says. "For too long, the little people have been cast adrift without a sail. It's time to create a wave for our people to get into the water and be able to recognize their potential."