First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) follows its mission to strengthen American Indian economies in order to support healthy Native communities. First Nations invests in and creates innovative institutions and models that strengthen asset control and support economic development for American Indian people and their communities. First Nations recognizes that within this mission, it is critical to support and encourage up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Last year, First Nations gave a grant to the Sequoyah Fund to support its Cherokee Entrepreneur Video Project. This project linked Cherokee youth with local Cherokee entrepreneurs in order to spark the youth to consider entrepreneurship as a career. The project was also designed to help youth learn from their elders and learn more about historical business leadership in their region. Funded in part by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, this project provided a group of Cherokee high school students an education in historical research and video production. Students learned to search historical records, identify and recruit interview subjects, and conduct interviews. They also learned the basics of video shooting and editing, and the development and implementation of social media strategies to share their video.
The students researched the local history of cultural entrepreneurship and economic development and created a list of Cherokee businesses. They also requested information from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to identify business licenses. This information was used to assess how the economy has grown and changed throughout the years. The process made the students more aware of their local economy. In addition, they saw how difficult leasing land for business use can be on tribal lands and how difficult obtaining information about those leases can be.
The Cherokee youth learned a lot from interviewing tribal elders about their careers in entrepreneurship. This learned about the types of businesses each elder owns, the advantages and disadvantages of entrepreneurship, and advice each tribal elder had for future Cherokee entrepreneurs.
All of their work resulted in a video that can be found here: https://vimeo.com/129228832. First Nations is proud to have supported this project that contributes to the development of future Native entrepreneurs.
The video description on Vimeo is as follows:
Cherokee, North Carolina, is also known as the Qualla Boundary, the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. For years it has been a bustling tourist destination offering history and culture along with the natural beauty of the land preserved as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One hour from the nearest airport, mall and most nationally known businesses, the Cherokee economy has long subsisted on small businesses to provide community services and to offer retail and restaurant offerings to the millions of people who visit annually.
In 1997, the Eastern Band (EBCI) began offering gaming services and the economy of Cherokee shifted. Positive and negative impacts resulted, but the small business community has been resilient.
Students at Cherokee High School filmed and edited this video to showcase how the Cherokee economy once looked, to highlight he pros and cons of owning a business in Cheorkee, and to preserve the stories of some of our oldest entrepreneurs. They interviewed tribal elders, artists and entrepreneurs and discovered a lot about their community, their opportunities, and how to successfully blend culture and business.
By Lisa Yellow Eagle, First Nations Program Officer