2012 is over and its been a mad rush into 2013. So many exciting projects now that NATIVE(X) isn’t just a side hobby anymore–working with new artists, collaborating on a line of scarves (details coming soon), sponsoring art classes around the country, planning trips to art shows, and redesigning the online art gallery.
Last week I finally had the chance to run N(X)’s 2012 numbers. Looking at the numbers isn’t the most glamorous part of the business, but it’s the only quantitative tool for measuring and benchmarking success. Giving customers access to this information holds NATIVE(X) accountable and ensures that we are doing what we say. Businesses that do good can make a serious impact, but if there isn’t any transparency with their mission, then it’s just a marketing tactic.
We started our sponsored art class program this year on the Umatilla Indian Reservation at Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts. Much to my parents’ chagrin, this will go down as the class that gave me a good reason to quit my day job so that I could fly out for a long weekend, meet the kids, and attend the class. I had no idea what to expect or how many kids would attend, but Pat Walter, Vice President of Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts did an amazing job promoting the class to the community and lining up Kolin Craig, the instructor.
Word about this class got out in various Native communities and I started receiving emails from others interested in organizing classes. Now that there is enough interest, 2013 will be about replicating this model in other communities and figuring out how to make it sustainable. I’m realizing that everything has a price and the reality is that if NATIVE(X) doesn’t sell enough, then funding art classes will become more difficult. It’s always tempting to plan classes now, and sell later!
2013 Sneak Peak: We’ll be working with ten new artists and launching a line of scarves
2013 marks a significant year in the evolution of the NATIVE(X) concept, and it’s the first time that I’ll be working on NATIVE(X) as a full-time commitment, not just as a side project.
NATIVE(X) will focus on three things:
Build out our art selection with additional artists
The goal of N(X) is to help artists reach a larger audience and our work with Nathaniel Wilkerson has validated that this concept works on a NW coast regional scale. So you’ll start to see the expansion of our online art gallery highlighting artists from around the country.
Sponsor two to three art classes
We’re continuing our work with Crow’s Shadow on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and working to extend our sponsored art classes to other tribes.
Develop an identifiable product
Ralph Lauren has its Polo Shirt. TOMS has its slip-on shoes. American Apparel has its tee shirt. Brooks Brothers has its dress shirts.
We’re working with manufacturers, artists, and accessory designers to create an entirely new line for 2013. We’ll keep you posted.
The holidays are finally here and I’d like to wish you a joyous season of good laughs, tasty food, and festive traditions. Just like you, I’ll be spending more time with family and friends, but the holiday season is also a time for me to reflect on NATIVE(X) and share my appreciation for your support.
No small interaction goes unnoticed at NATIVE(X), and I’m grateful for each customer note (positive or negative), each Facebook like, each blog follow, and of course, each order. It’s through your involvement that I’m able to progress my vision of a marketplace for true Native American design.
In order to give this vision a chance, I moved into a closet in June, quit my marketing job at Unilever in October, and started working full time on NATIVE(X). As I sat in my cubicle at Unilever, my passion for the concept pulled at me and I wanted to make a greater impact in the world. Needless to say, I’ve had an entirely new lifestyle over the past two months, and there is no question that being an entrepreneur is an emotional roller coaster. This thought brings me back to you. NATIVE(X) visitors are a constant in my day and give me the courage to move forward with my vision. Thank you!
As I work with the media and think about the future of NATIVE(X), the non-profit vs. for-profit discussion continues to pop-up. I’m not alone as many other socially minded entrepreneurs receive the “why aren’t you a non-profit” question too. When I incorporated NATIVE(X) last year, registering NATIVE(X) as anything other than for-profit didn’t occur to me. In hindsight, I should have at least assessed the non-profit route given the nature of NATIVE(X)’s social mission. However, for-profit turned out to be the best choice because:
Design not Donation
- I want customers to spend their hard earned dollars at N(X) out of pure admiration for Native design. A side benefit of the purchase is that it supports artists and their communities. Being a non-profit takes the focus away from the design and places it on donating to or helping a group of people. Neither I nor the artists want that.
Competition is good
- Competing with other fashion brand makes N(X) better. In order to survive, we have to produce amazing collaborations, nothing less.
However, for-profit comes with a capitalistic stigma that can hamper any social business’s momentum. A system of checks and balances ensure that the financial ambitions don’t outstrip the social vision. This is what we’re doing at NATIVE(X):
Taking transparency to a new level
- Our transparency goals include publishing detailed annual reports with a clear breakdown of where money was spent and invested. Did all stakeholders receive their fair share? Were the right investments made to further the concept? Where did we make mistakes?
Business survival depends on the Native community’s support
- N(X) grew out of conversations with Native community members and without their continued support, N(X) would fail. Thats the beauty of social media. It empowers groups of people to vote with their collective voice.
What do you think about the for-profit vs non-profit debate?
On a side note, if you are deciding between starting a social business or a non profit, read Richard Dare’s Huffington Post Article.
I spoke with Dustin Martin, program director for Wings of America and co-founder of Sovereign Original Land Owners (SOLO), while he visited New York City. Dustin graduated from Columbia University in 2011 where he ran cross-country and track and started S.O.L.O. He recently returned to his home state of New Mexico to work at Wings of America, a non-profit aimed at enhancing the lives of Native American youth using running as a catalyst.
Mac: Tell me about the shirt you are wearing?
Dustin: Our “pREZerve The Peaks” tee. So above Flagstaff, Arizona we have mountains that are sacred to our people. For years there have been battles about how the land should be used. In the early 40s or 50s, the forest service repurposed the land for a ski area. Then a larger road was proposed. The road was built and Arizona Snowbowl continued to grow. There have been Natives that have vociferously opposed the development every step of the way.
Today the fight revolves around the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow the ski area to pump in reclaimed sewer water from Flagstaff. They plan to use it to make artificial snow on the mountain. For years now, a number of Native people from surrounding tribes have been fighting this particular project alongside other concerned non-Native activists. The 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco heard the case that sought to nullify the permit issued by the Forest Service. Initially a panel of 3 judges ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the project was halted. But not long after, the full court overturned its earlier decision saying it resulted from a flawed reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Their ruling has been appealed twice. Both times the appeal has been denied. The last time the case was heard was last February.
Now the pipeline is being built. Many die hard opponents have been arrested in the last few months for standing in the way of “progress”—a few have literally chained themselves to the construction equipment. Though I admit I don’t have the balls to do something like that, this shirt is S.O.L.O.’s attempt to do something to make sure that people keep thinking and talking about this complicated issue. Apart from Natives’ concern about the desecration of sacred land, there are much larger questions of safety and sustainability that need to be further considered for all people’s sake. I love to ski and have skied on this mountain, but can it be right to start spewing wastewater all over its slopes because natural snow isn’t falling like skiers want it to? Why should humans feel obliged to intervene in that process? No one knows exactly how this is going to affect the surrounding ecosystem. How are unfiltered bacteria going to affect the delicate terrain? Kids playing around eating “reclaimed” snow?
Mac: Would you be okay if it was a pipeline with purified water?
Dustin: No. Humans compensating for unfavorable weather conditions can only lead to more chauvinistic policy that will deplete and destroy our country’s natural resources while promoting unsustainable growth. I think the San Francisco Peaks project sets a precedent that can only lead to more brazen displays of disrespect for our land in the name of profit.
Mac: What are your thoughts on the election?
Dustin: Natives need to realize that one administration can change everything for Native communities. More importantly, it doesn’t have to be one administration, it can be one policy change. Our dependence on Federal dollars could easily become an Achilles heel if opponents of treaty rights find their way to Washington. Unless we continue to create tribal enterprises, we’ll be vulnerable.
Mac: You spoke about creating sustainable tribal enterprises. What are your thoughts on the Indian Gaming act?
Dustin: The communities that are small and cohesive benefit the most. It’s easy for them to target a population to give back to. It makes sense. The Navajo Nation finally passed gaming after voting it down twice. Where exactly is that money going to go though? There are over 250,000 Navajos and the conversation always leads back to “where is our cut?”. I think it is sad. It’s sad that this tool was given to Natives to proliferate sovereignty and self-determination. I see it creating a lot of unnecessary greed. Since the Pueblo communities opened casinos, some have kicked out longtime community members over issues of blood quantum or because they only married into the Pueblo [rather than being born into the community]. It’s sad because that sort of exclusivity can create a lot of bickering and counterproductive energy in a small group of people.
Then again, I can’t completely demonize these businesses because many do their communities a great service by funding tribal infrastructure, health programs and non-profits. When there is a source of revenue, and you can reinvest back into the community, it makes a big difference. I just wish Natives didn’t have to be associated with the stigmas that surround casino profits. Besides gaming, Navajos have an awe-inspiring land base that we have to take advantage of beyond mining and drilling. I wish there was a bigger industry focused on Native-driven cultural and eco-tourism. The Hopis and Pueblos do a good job with their cultural centers, feast days and dances. But again, these are smaller nuclear communities.
For the Navajos, as a much larger tribe, it’s more difficult. Everyone wants to know that their voice is being heard and that things are fair. Unfortunately we operate in a system that hasn’t lent itself to transparency in the past. The conversation needs to change from “where’s my cut?” to “how am I helping responsibly represent and progress our people?”.
Mac: How do you see the next generation of Native leaders developing?
Dustin: Part of me knows it’s presumptuous to talk about the up and coming leaders of Native country in a stuffy library in NYC. But I like to think the perspective I have gained on the world by spending time outside of the Southwest has helped me recognize how wealthy and blessed my people are in so many ways that folks at home don’t always appreciate. I think that young people in Native country should take the opportunity to live and learn somewhere else, but in the end they will know where home is and where their soul feels most rewarded and comfortable.
Those that “get out” should never be made to feel guilty about their success or the opportunity they find. They’ll be less likely to go back home to share the knowledge they absorbed elsewhere. That’s the opposite of what we need. I hope that in the future, young, well-traveled Natives are able to give their local communities enough global perspective to understand how important their traditional knowledge can be for the world at large; not just their reservations. I believe there is a way to share and proliferate that knowledge without forsaking its sacredness.
Mac: Did you notice any prejudice when you went back home after graduating from Columbia?
Dustin: To a certain extent, yes. I’m half white and people notice that immediately. The great equalizer for me has always been running. People see me run, and then it is no [racial] questions asked. That’s what inspires me. We need to encourage our youth to find a passion, something that they can share with the world or their community. No one will question their identity because it’s not a question of how Native he or she is or when was the last time they lived on the reservation. Instead it’s like, “wow, I was really inspired by what I just saw, how can I get there too?”. And that’s the mentality that we move on. Rather than “what percent is he?”. Some people on reservations are more interested in questioning a young person’s pre-determined identity [clans, blood quantum, hometown, etc.] than helping them find their passion or destiny. I like to think I’m helping foster a new generation of leaders that can encourage both younger and older peers to be more open minded and inquisitive about how their culture relates and compares to that of the rest of the world.
It makes me sad when I see people deny interaction with a new and interesting person or place because of their deep-seated allegiance to where they come from. We need to create more opportunities for our Native kids to test their boundaries and then find refuge in their traditional lands and ways. I’m lucky because I’ve had every opportunity in the world to do just that. Run at a private high school, go to Columbia University, work for Wings of America. I understand that not every kid will get or want opportunities like these. That’s okay. But those with drive and ambition shouldn’t feel limited in their passion by finances or jealousy. So long as these young ones maintain a connection with their homelands, they will keep their people moving forward without neglecting the lessons of their past. That being said, they shouldn’t feel like they have to exactly echo the voice of their elders.
When I first stepped into the Wings job, I was very keen on prefacing each of our programs with a message I have heard countless times from my elders: “Running is important because it is linked to our cultural heritage. Navajo’s run because of THIS.” I found that a lot of kids these days don’t want to hear that, so spelled out, so black and white. Culture isn’t something you learn by defining it. Culture is something you learn by creating it, perpetuating it, experiencing it, those words and definitions that people spell out confine us. No one is participating in culture when we preface the conversation or activity with “We are doing this so we can be cultural”. Now I let the kids run first.
Mac: What have you got in that tube?
This is a print that I completed my last year of college. I carved the plate out of a huge block of plywood. It’s essentially a map for my interpretation of some of the images that come to light in the early stages of the Navajo creation story. It was inspired by my exposure to some of academia’s records of Navajo religion and cosmology.
From the turn of the 20th century until around the 1930s, a number of white religious and linguistic scholars collected many stories and images from Navajo hataathlii’s, or medicine men. Many of these academics operated under the assumption that the rituals they were collecting would soon be lost along with the people. In the anthropological world their work was called “salvage ethnography”. Their translations eventually became books that synthesized Navajo origin stories as linear texts with silkscreened diagrams to replace the massive sandpaintings that traditionally illustrate a ceremony. I came across tattered copies of these books in Columbia’s libraries and was entranced. After doing some research I found that these books were very old and very rare. I felt like it was my responsibility to engage with them and do something to revive the enclosed stories and images.
Traditionally, I knew that the images and stories I was working with were never supposed to be printed. I felt uneasy pressing elements of the texts to paper once more but rationalized my transgression with hope that my heart was in the right place. Though the Navajo people are far from lost, it has become difficult for young people to learn our religion in the traditional way. In the old days a hataathlii would take an apprentice and pass songs down to their student from the time they were very small until they were well into adulthood. But our modern world makes such a learning process very difficult, if not impossible. It’s important that there are other ways for Navajos to learn traditional teachings to help guide them on the path to beauty. Even the oldest songs and sandpaintings teach us that change and evolution amongst people and societies are inevitable. I take that lesson to heart. Everyday I do my best to face the challenges of tomorrow with an eye to my past AND the courage to evolve. Wings, S.O.L.O., running, art- each is a way for me to put the past in conversation with the present to create the most genuine products I know how to.
NATIVE(X) hosted a short story contest in collaboration with Single Red Female, a Native-owned management, marketing, and promotions agency. Dyani Brown, the owner of Single Red Female, and I reviewed all entries and chose Dana Lone Hill’s “Four Colored Flags” as the winner. Dana won a NATIVE(X) tote and a framed copy of “Four Colored Flags”.
Four Colored Flags
I ran the day after I turned 18. I ran from my adopted home as if it were on fire. I ran with a backpack filled with a couple of changes of clothes, a comb, some hotel soaps and a jar of Carmex. I ran straight for about two miles, then ducked off the main road and started walking. I cut through some country roads until I hit pavement again. Then I started hitchhiking. I was tired and thirsty but I wasn’t going to stop until I got to where I was going. A trucker picked me up and said he was passing through the reservation I wanted to be let off at. He wasn’t a pervert, thank god. I dealt with enough of those in my life. He was almost as bad, he was Jesus-y and tried to preach. Whatever. I had enough of that in my life too.
Finally, he let me off on the reservation. A small dusty town, no grass in the lawns, and dogs without leashes. I head for a cafe and go inside. I order a glass of water and a turkey sandwich. Now what? I thought.
I guess I will never find my mom until I ask. The only memory I have of her is faint. I remember being taken away. I remember visiting her in jail as the white social worker told me and my sister to tell her bye. I was 6 and my sister was 5. They said we would never see her again. I remember we all started crying. My mom hit the social worker and that was that. Cops came in wrestled her down, took her away.
I got up enough nerve and asked the waitress if she knew her. She looked at me for a long time and nodded. She went in the back and came back with the cook. He was older, greasy, and a permanent wrinkle in his brow, deeper than his other wrinkles. I explained to him who I was. He nodded. Looked at me for a long time and told me to wait, he would be off work soon. Everyone keeps looking at me funny. Must be my piercing and the magenta streaks in my hair. I was still in a rebellious stage. I ran from my adoptive family because even after 11 foster homes, this family didn’t know me. I knew somewhere, here on this reservation where I was born, someone has to know me.
I finished my sandwich and tepid water. The cook comes out and tells me it was on the house. I thank him and we go outside into his old Ford pick-up truck. It starts on the second turn of the key. He looks at my legs and tells me I need new jeans. I laugh, I put the holes in these jeans myself. He still looks at the road and remarks calmly, “you must be lost.” I know he’s talking about my piercing, tattoos, dyed hair. I stop smiling, say nothing but look out the window. I wonder how far she lives. He reaches in his shirt pocket and hands me a cigarette. “I don’t smoke” I say. He grunts, so I take it anyway and stick it behind my ear.
Finally we pull off the road and travel on a dirt road for about a mile. He pulls up to a small ramshackle trailer with a skinny dog. The dog sniffs at me as we get out. I’m nervous. Is she here? I ask. I had dreamed of this moment forever. Now I didn’t know what I was going to say to her. He waves me over with his hand and points with his lips to the hill. She is up there. Go, I will be right behind you. Something about his eyes. I know he’s not lying. I start walking, mindful of cactus hidden in the weeds. I’m scared of snakes hiding in the weeds, too. I finally get to the top and look up. I see four colored flags. Blue, red, yellow, white.
And a headstone.
This was my mom. I stand there as hot tears fall. This wasn’t how this is supposed to be. Under her name it said Loving Mother. She was. I remember her smell, like Jovan Wild Musk. I used to smell that perfume in Walmart and close my eyes and remember her laugh. I see broken cigarettes at her headstone amongst the faded plastic flowers. I take the cigarette from behind my ear, break it and lay it down.
I’m home mom. And I start sobbing.
Suddenly I notice he is behind me. Granddaughter, don’t cry. She knew you would come home. You are home now. Let’s go unpack your stuff.
I get up and we walk home.
-Dana Lone Hill, Oglala Lakota
Whitney Minthorn is a fashion and beauty photographer living in Albuquerque, NM where he set up shop as Whitney Minthorn Photography. I interviewed Whitney about his career and where he wants to take his photography. Each week during the month of November, you can read these interviews on the NATIVE(X) blog. (Part four of a six part series.)
Mac: What’s your perspective on Native American heritage month?
Whitney: I usually don’t do too much for it, but I think it would be cool if it had more significance for everyone.
Mac: How do you think the month could create more awareness around Native culture and heritage?
Whitney: I know there is a Facebook event going around called Rock Your Mocs with the goal to show people that Native Americans aren’t just a thing of the past, we are still here and thriving.
Mac: You’re selling some beaded mocassins right?
Whitney: Yep, take a look.
Mac: What else do you have going on?
Whitney: I have my job at the Olive Garden and I have my photography studio. It’s set up in my house with all the equipment. Lights, backdrop, and everything.
Mac: You are a humble guy Whitney. Your photos were just featured on the cover of Native Max, right?
Whitney: I’ve had two cover shots. My most recent was of Mariah Watchman who was on America’s Next Top Model and is from Pendleton, OR. She has been modeling internationally since 16.
Mac: What other photography clients do you have?
Whitney: Mainly fashion and beauty photography. I took some shots for a lingerie designer who is promoting her work for the Santa Fe fashion week. It’s really big around here in November celebrating Native fashion during Native American heritage month. Take a look at Santafefashionweek.com and then I know Native Max magazine is having a Native fashion show in Flagstaff on the 10th.
Whitney: As far as photography, I’m going to do more mainstream stuff. I’ll probably live in another city or maybe outside of the country. New York would be cool too.
Victor Pascual is the owner of Digital Navajo, a full service creative studio that was created to serve the Indigenous peoples of North America and beyond. I interviewed Victor to get his thoughts on Native American Heritage month and where design in the Native community is heading. Each week during the month of November, you can read these interviews on the NATIVE(X) blog. (Part three of a six part series.)
Mac: What does Native American Heritage month mean to you?
Victor Pascual: Well it’s something that I don’t spend much time talking about because for me, Native American Heritage month is everyday thing. But I guess it’s better to have a month than no month, right?
Mac: Okay. In terms of exposing Native American Heritage and what’s going on in the present, do you think it is important that we have a month like Black History Month that receives attention from the media and school curriculum?
Victor Pascual: Well, I think the question is strange because America was founded on Native land. People should be aware of Native Americans on a daily basis. It’s strange to say, “Hey, let’s have a Native American Day.”
Mac: You said that people should have an understanding on daily basis instead of making it just a special month celebration. It makes complete sense. But realistically Americans don’t think about it on a regular basis and Native American Heritage month could be an opportunity for Native communities to tell their story. How do you get from where we are today to where we could be in terms of awareness and acknowledgement?
Victor Pascual: Well, I think a lot of this goes back to participation coming from our communities. As Natives, it’s our role to educate people outside our communities. It’s also great to challenge those stereotypes and prove wrong those who doubt. I think a long-term change requires our efforts to begin at the individual level.
Mac: When you say individual, are you talking about the Native community acknowledging history and moving forward?
Victor Pascual: Yes, absolutely. We need to tell our own stories. “Hey, this is who we are.”
Mac: Going back to Native American Heritage month, do you think it could be done in a different way? How would you educate non-Natives during Native American Heritage month? I realize that you said that it should be an everyday thought, but given what we have, what could people do or how could you see the month being a better way to celebrate Native-American Heritage?
Victor Pascual: Within the classrooms? This is probably a good place to begin.
Mac: So, how would you say you are personally moving forward and making a change and how you’re inspiring others?
Victor Pascual: The work I do is focused in Indian Country. I’m partnered in a design studio that works with Tribal governments, non-profits/foundations and small businesses, all of which work to serve our communities. I’d like to think that the work I do as a graphic designer inspires others. When you do the research, you’ll find that hardly any professional full-service design/creative agencies are Native-owned and run. We’re non-existent, almost. I hope to see more of us out there doing great work!
Mac: How do you see the next generation of influencers or creators in the Native community developing? It’s inspired to see what you are doing.
Victor Pascual: I can only speak for my line of work, but I certainly see a lot more people taking up design as a career and trying to find ways to work in Indian Country. There are challenges of course, but with people like Ryan Red Corn and myself, our efforts prove that it is possible to make a living doing what we love while working for our own people. I guess in a way, we’re paving the roads and in the process, providing inspiration for aspiring designers and creatives.
Mac: So, do you feel like there’s more opportunity for youth in the Native community compared to 20 years ago?
Victor Pascual: Yeah, for sure. Well, absolutely there are more opportunities. I think the largest factor in creating these opportunities is technology. You have kids on and off the reservation who have smart phones which allow them access to Facebook and Twitter. With this type of access, youth are able to do things I never had the opportunity of doing while I was growing up on the rez.
I see a lot of youth taking initiative and creating their own opportunities. If they get bored, they get creative and make things happen and it’s certainly easier to do this with reliable communication tools.
Mac: Are there any initiatives that you know to increase the speed of smartphone adoption or it’s pretty much set?
Victor Pascual: I can only speak for campaign initiatives geared for connected youth using an interactive experience. One of the last projects that I worked on is this website for youth. It’s designed for youth interaction. It’s kind of like a Facebook for youth that focuses on health and fitness, health and wellness. The website is WeRNative.com.
Mac: What are your goals on 2013?
Victor Pascual: Presently, I’m leaving Seattle and moving back to the Southwest. I’ve been in Seattle for almost eight years and have known that I would move back, I just wasn’t sure of when. The big goal for 2013 is to reassess what my vision is for my business. It’s time to expand and grow. I’ve been telling a lot of folks that Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is where I’ll be moving to, is a stepping stone to something larger. I think that there’s a potential opportunity there for collaboration along with building up our client-base. Since I’m also from the region, it’s also a goal to work with my tribe.