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Guest Column | An eye-opening gathering, dynamic topics, top-notch speakers

Courtesy photo | Bazhnibah
Austin Tsosie, chief executive officer of Diné Development Corporation, gave remarks on his successes and also gifted Chris James, the president and CEO of the National Center, with a medallion.

By Bazhnibah


Attending the RES 2022, or the Reservation Economic Summit, for the first time was an exceptionally valuable experience.

I had no expectations. But I wondered of all things, what people wore to these summits.

Ruth (Bazhnibah) Kawano

I thought about “business attire.” I had not gone to a large conference of this magnitude since my nursing days. I had retired all my business suits eight years ago.

I packed my bag and after a few hours of sheep shearing, I left the reservation and off to Las Vegas I went. The summit ran from May 23 to 26.

The summit is huge. Attendance was anticipated at more than 3,000 people. Speakers, vendors, traders, company CEOs, leaders of every size of business came from every direction. The venue was Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino, grand and ornate with huge conference rooms and break-out session rooms.

This year the topics were dynamic – enterprise development, gaming, natural resources, energy development, health-care business, entertainment business, leadership and governance, infrastructure, and entrepreneurship.

The speakers and educators were top-notch from all over the country. Many were successful business leaders with great revenue. Some had made millions in their first year as a business owner. They were here to educate others on how to do it.

Derrick Watchman, as chair and member of the board of directors for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, said in his address that in 2022 “the RES will be the place where change begins, where businesses get a jumpstart that will fuel them for the rest of the year and beyond.”

Wow, these businesses actually network with Fortune 500 companies too. I felt out of place! What was I doing here? Oh, I am only a photographer.

The theme for RES this year was “Be the change.” It told us that we are in control of our own destinies as businesses, that we can be a catalyst for making the changes needed to get a business off the ground, take it in a new direction, or expand its potential market.

RES offers a platform to make these changes and to run with it in 2022. The opportunities for learning were there, readily available.

I saw only a handful of Navajo Nation people. I wondered where all our businesspeople were, the leaders in our economic development divisions. I thought we could be champions too, but where are the Navajos?

On Monday was “entrepreneurship day.” Reportedly, Indigenous Americans own and operate 6% of all U.S. businesses, which is approximately 26,000 across America.

Tuesday was all about leadership with the theme “be the change.” Statistically, more than 77% of organizations reported that leadership is lacking. The National Center supports skills through initiatives such as their 40-under-40 award program, Native Edge Institute and youth business competition which happen at every RES summit.

The third day is all about innovation: “Innovation is change. Like any change, it requires effort, generates resistance, and needs vision and leadership. Innovation is critical across all industries and drives change!”

Whoa, do our Navajo people know this?

Courtesy photo | Bazhnibah
Wahleah Johns, Navajo, is director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs in the U.S. Department of Energy.

The last day of the summit is back to “be the change.” Do our new Navajo Nation president candidates know this?

Change is in business, in a community, and with the environment. All businesses “need to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace, consider corporate social responsibility, and stand strong on Native American social justice issues,” per the National Center.

The organization works hard to “be the change” by serving as a voice for Native business in the halls of Congress and with federal agencies. In fact, they work for all Native people!

Besides the general and break-out sessions, there was entertainment with the fireside chats with entertainers such as Wayne Newton, actor Mo Brings Plenty, and fashion model Quannah Rose Chasinghorse.

There were clinics, business impact trainings, networking, matchmaking, youth business plan competition, meetings, federal speakers, award ceremonies and receptions in the evenings.

One highlight of my trip was the 40-under-40 awards and the fashion show by three designers, Choke Cherry Creek, ACONAV and Red Berry Woman.

The 40-under-40 awardees were impressive too! From Navajo, there were Stephanie Allison with Dreamcatcher Financial Strategies; Jackson Brossy with the U.S. Small Business Administration; Melissa Peterson with the University of Kansas; and Concetta Tsosie De Haro with the U.S. Senate Committee in Indian Affairs.

There were also business award winners. Twila True, CEO and cofounder of True Family Enterprise, was the winner for the Native Woman Business Owner of the Year.

American Business of the Year went to Redline Media Group for the success of an American Indian or tribal nation-owned business and its demonstration of excellent corporate citizenship.

The Tribal Gaming Visionary Award went to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for leadership in the tribal gaming sector and efforts to advance opportunity for Native-owned businesses. They recently bought the Palms Casino in Las Vegas.

The Congressional Achievement Award went to U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico.

Overall, the RES 2022 hosted by NCAIED was an excellent opportunity for all attendees to improve their businesses. I would go again as a participant and photographer.

Next year’s RES 2023 is set for April 3 to 6, 2023.

Bazhnibah is Ruth Kawano who, with a master’s in nursing, has served as a Public Health Service captain, a U.S. Air Force captain, is a retired registered nurse and a photographer/writer.


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