When thousands from our community gather in Las Vegas in late March for the Reservation Economic Summit, they will be part of a tradition and movement that extends back five decades. In 2019, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development is celebrating its 50th anniversary — 50 years of being the voice for economic development across Indian Country. Fifty years of growth and evolution, while staying true to our core mission.
What began as a small gathering of activists in the Los Angeles area has grown into a true force to be reckoned with. The Reservation Economic Summit is our flagship event and for many, the National Center is only known for that. There is a good reason for this; the Reservation Economic Summit brings together subject-matter experts, tribal and government leaders, Fortune 500 companies, small business owners, and procurement specialists in a collaborative environment where business can get done. It also doesn’t hurt that it takes place in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
But the Reservation Economic Summit is just one part of what the National Center does, though it is the linchpin that sustains us throughout the year. It supports our Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), which have been responsible for securing billions in government contracts and creating thousands of jobs. Our expert teams in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Georgia know how to help clients navigate the complex federal and small business procurement programs. The success of our Procurement Technical Assistance Centers — working directly with clients that have won over $3.3 billion in contracts over the last 20 years — is felt throughout the communities in which these businesses operate.
The Reservation Economic Summit lays the foundation for the Native Edge, the online portal that provides training, job opportunities, networking, and much more to users across the country. Last year, we began the process of expanding the Native Edge to single-day events across the country. The Native Edge Institutes (NEIs) provide procurement and technology training to tribal leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs. So far, we’ve held these events in Albuquerque, Seattle, Tulsa, and Anchorage (which was our first physical event in Alaska). In February we hosted our first National Edge Institutes on the East Coast in Orlando, Florida, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
I’m excited about the development and potential of the Native Edge Institutes and look forward to bringing one to a city near you.
The Reservation Economic Summit also gives us an opportunity to showcase our talented and growing team. Since I joined the National Center in early 2017, we have expanded our capabilities and expertise by hiring additional business development specialists, a communications expert, and a director for our new Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Program. We are also expanding our geographic footprint, with a business development specialist who will be based on the East Coast. Our team is united in its mission to help establish, grow, and support American Indian and Alaska Native entrepreneurs no matter where they are located.
The National Center is also doing its part to develop our young leaders. Last year marked the 10th Anniversary of the Native American 40 Under 40 awards, which means 400 community and tribal leaders, entrepreneurs, attorneys, journalists, academics, writers, and many other leaders have been recognized through the program. Many of our sessions at the Reservation Economic Summit will be led by past winners, and we’ll offer this exclusive but growing club the opportunity to network with each other in Las Vegas. Several of the new additions to our team and our board are past 40 Under 40 winners, proving that this prestigious honor isn’t just a single-year honor; it’s a lifetime commitment to leadership within our community.
Of course, the National Center isn’t moving the ball forward without help. We are proud of our partnerships with other Indian Country organizations, particularly in Washington, DC, where we have recently teamed with other groups to support key Indian Country economic development legislation. That legislation is on a fast track in the Senate, having already passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The historic elections of Representatives Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland have energized our community; now is the time to use that energy to advance a robust legislative agenda for Indian Country.
Though I’ve only been leading the National Center for two years, it’s humbling to know that I’m a part of a tradition that dates back five decades. I’m proud of the work that the National Center has done to advance economic development in Indian Country but know we’ve only just begun to tap into our potential.
Our work starts with the Reservation Economic Summit, but it doesn’t end there. We hope you’ll join us in the first step of a much longer journey when the Reservation Economic Summit kicks off on March 25 in Las Vegas.
Chris James is President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.