Article by Sal Christ
Reporter, Albuquerque Business First
The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) is teaming up with United National Indian Tribal Youth Inc. (UNITY) and Facebook for the annual Reservation Economic Summit New Mexico in Santa Fe on Nov. 16. While the main event focuses on how to bolster economic growth of Native American reservation communities on a macro level, the partnership revolves around youth and young adults and encouraging them to go into business.
We spoke with Gary “Litefoot” Davis, president and CEO of NCAIED, about the event, what economic obstacles he sees facing the Native American communities and how his own path in life was propelled by starting a business. Davis has worked extensively in music, television and film — most recently in “House of Cards” in 2014 — but ventured more heavily into growing tribal businesses in 2005. He’s an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
What is your background in business? A lot of people might only know your entertainment and music career.
Often people see the movies and hear the music, but they don’t understand that my father was an entrepreneur and my grandfather was an entrepreneur. The first thing I did in my music career was to start my own business and without it, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain my path otherwise. That journey was crucial in the opportunities that later came to me. Over 25 years, I’ve come to better understand what entrepreneurship means to me — it can literally change someone’s life, which is why I’m so passionate about it. It can help move forward opportunities for Indian Country and as an entrepreneur, you’re able to take care of yourself and provide for your family, which is really powerful. On an individual basis, it means that we can be truly sovereign — I think it just cannot be stressed how important that is.
How did the collaboration between NCAIED and UNITY come about?
We have had a good relationship with UNITY over the years and we know they’ve done a lot of great things over the years, trying to move the needle by putting opportunities in front of youth. It’s going to be impossible for us to have a growing economy without Native American people. We [NCAIED] want to do more to encourage a new generation of American Indian entrepreneurs. At the same time, we’re not trying to start a youth group nationwide, we just want to encourage entrepreneurship in Indian Country.