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American Indian Entrepreneurship Symposium April 17 at UW

April 10, 2019
Gary  Davis and Affie Davis

The University of Wyoming, together with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, will host a “WY Wind River: Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Symposium” next week at UW, focused on Wyoming and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The symposium will begin at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the College of Arts and Sciences auditorium on the UW campus. Gov. Mark Gordon and UW President Laurie Nichols are scheduled to give introductory remarks.

The keynote speaker is Gary “Litefoot” Davis (Cherokee), executive director of the Native American Financial Services Association. He also is a member of the Forbes Finance Council, an invitation-only organization for executives in successful accounting, financial planning and wealth management firms. He currently is publisher of Native Business Magazine.

Davis previously served as president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, where he oversaw the organization’s initiatives, including the Native American Global Trade Center, and focused on growing the collective economic power of Native businesses by facilitating a wide array of diversified multinational economic opportunities.

Following the keynote address, Davis will join state Sen. Affie Ellis (Navajo), of Cheyenne, in moderating a panel discussion by Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho leaders including Fremont County state Rep. Andi Clifford, Art Lawson, Cy Lee, Scott Ratliff, Jerad Stack and Orville St. Clair. The panel will focus on the pillars of economic development as identified by the ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) task force, seeking to apply these concepts to both Wyoming and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“Research and economic development can empower and lift individuals and communities by enlarging one’s own sense of capability and by promoting teamwork. An important part of the University of Wyoming’s mission is to use the experience of research to educate students and to develop means of stimulating the economy through innovation,” says Ed Synakowski, UW vice president for research and economic development. “The Wind River Reservation, through the resources of the land and its people, have been important partners with UW in research. The potential for deepening the impacts in Wind River communities and on the UW campus through strengthened partnership in both research and economic development efforts is high.”

ENDOW’s strategies include strengthening the building blocks of Wyoming’s economy through advancing education, health care, infrastructure, the entrepreneurial ecosystem and state capabilities. Additionally, ENDOW proposes creating new economic engines in industries such as natural resources, tourism and recreation, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and the knowledge/creative fields.

The same strategies that are good for Wyoming are applicable to the Wind River Indian Reservation, says James Trosper, director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute and an organizer of the symposium.

“Wyoming and the reservation can work together to help each other’s economies grow,” Trosper says. “I’m not sure people have been taking the reservation into account.”

The symposium will explore how to build a community of innovators driven by inclusion, connection and investment. Successful growth strategies would take advantage of global economic forces, so the state and reservation can prosper independently of the current economic climate, he adds.

The Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have a long history of entrepreneurship across a large portion of the continent, Trosper says. The Arapaho were known as the “Phoenicians of the Plains” for their multiyear trade journeys ranging between the Southwest and the Northern Plains, while the Shoshone introduced the horse to northern tribes and were key players in the Rocky Mountain fur trade and rendezvous of the 1830s.

“Both tribes were wealthy by anyone’s standards,” Trosper says.

Entrepreneurial tribal economies were disrupted by American expansion, culminating in the creation of the reservation system, Trosper notes.

Federal policies restricted economic independence as a means of controlling tribes and confining them to reservations. For example, reservation agents issued rations to replace traditional hunting and trading activities, then reduced those rations as punishment if tribal members went outside the reservation boundaries. Such policies created an enduring cycle of poverty and dependence.

“We want to go back to the way the tribes were when we were entrepreneurs,” Trosper says.

To support that goal, symposium organizers will announce a new $50,000 Wind River Entrepreneurship Competition and the creation of a Wind River Research Micro-grants Project to encourage student research at reservation schools.

Following the panel discussion at 7 p.m., Wyoming Humanities and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute will present “Circle of Dance,” a dynamic exhibition of dance, regalia and music by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers.

This conclusion to the symposium demonstrates the American Indian contribution to Wyoming’s cultural arts and the creative economy, a sector identified in the ENDOW report as vital to economic development for supporting quality of life and attracting and retaining residents, Trosper says.

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