VIDEO: Native women as community leaders, CEOs and drivers of Indigenous economies

Aliyah Chavez

Data shows that Native women earn 58 cents for every dollar that a white male earns even though two out of three Native women are the breadwinners of their family * This story has been corrected

Reyna Banteah leases a plot of land from the city of Albuquerque where she grows kale, carrots, radishes and onions. Once her harvest is ready, she sells her produce locally, at grower’s markets and various restaurants.The Zuni Pueblo farmer is practicing -- and advocating -- for food sovereignty.

Banteah, 33, is the owner of Ts’uyya Farm, which means hummingbird in Zuni. She turned her idea into a business.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico legislature passed a bill appropriating $150,000 to support Native women entrepreneurs like Banteah. The appropriation was made possible, in large part, by Georgene Louis, a Democrat who represents Acoma Pueblo in the state legislature. There was another playmaker working behind the scenes, a non-profit organization co-founded by seven Native women called Native Women Lead. Their mission is to empower and support Native women entrepreneurs.

[RELATED: Harvard University collaborates with Native Women Lead to build mentorship initiative]

“This was definitely historic,” says Alicia Ortega, a co-founder of Native Women Lead who is from Pojoaque and Santa Clara Pueblos. “The fact that we received support from the legislature to bring Native businesswomen together is really fantastic.”

There are an estimated 180,300 Native women-owned businesses in the country, which makes up 1.4 percent of all women-owned businesses in the country, according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report by American Express.

“Native American women are community leaders, CEOs, mothers, wives, elders and the critical drivers of Indigenous businesses that contribute $11 billion the economy,” the Native Women Lead website states.

This organization made history in 2018 by hosting the largest gathering of Native women entrepreneurs in history. The sold-out event included more than 200 women from over 65 tribal nations.

The Native Women’s Business Summits feature technical training on how to develop a business plan, access capital and pitch to investors. They also include on-site child care so that mothers can participate as well.

Banteah has attended both of the summits and says she found the information to be valuable. “It has been really cool to work with different Indigenous women,” Banteah says. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone. Just seeing everyone’s ideas is really amazing.”

Aside from this work, the organization also works to bring awareness to other issues like pay equity. Data shows that Native women earn 58 cents for every dollar that a white male earns even though two out of three Native women are the breadwinners of their family.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, wrote an article in September, saying that it would take a Native woman to work 22 months to make the same amount of money that a white man would make in a year.

Native Women Lead says they will continue to host programs to combat these issues so that Native women entrepreneurs feel supported in bringing their ideas to life. Moving forward, they say they will continue working with the state to create a directory of Native women-owned businesses. They also say they want to create a pitch school, which is a presentation to show investors about a company.

And for those who need advice now? Ask questions, the organization says.

“Have courage. If you see somebody and you like they do, go ask them a question,” says Stephine Poston, Sandia Pueblo and co-founder of Native Women Lead. “Typically people are more than willing to share.” 

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

Jonathan Sims, Acoma Pueblo, contributed to this story

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