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seeing that there is more and more of that on Indian reservations. It’s a bigissue; I think until we get our youngpeople to not turn to those drugs, we will not be able to be successful inthe wrong end.
Please tell me about your Native American heritage.
I am a Sioux- St. Marie. [Thetribe] actually originated as theSioux-St. Marie Chippewa inNorthern Michigan. I hail fromCheboygan, which is up in thestraits region of historic Mackinaw where Lake Michigan and Huroncome under the bridge called theMackinaw. Our tribe was never actu-ally recognized as a tribe in the 1934Indian Act. Our tribe fought for itstribal recognition during the ‘60sand ‘70s during the revival, as I’m sotold by my elders.
How do you keep your heritagealive in an age of assimilation and
companies, and kind of become a se-rial entrepreneur. New West has beengoing on for fifteen years.
From 1996-2002 most of your business was from Native Americans. Has it grown fromthere to non-Native Americans? What percentage of your businessis still primarily Native American?
I would say 20% of our businessis helping federal agency programs ishelping Indian peoples and Indianreservations. But the client is really the federal government. 95% of ourclient work is all for federal govern-ment. Tribal work is now a smallerportion of our overall company, but we keep on pursuing other opportu-nities to work on different programs with Indian companies.
I also read you are active inphilanthropic support for Native Americans. What do you primarily give to?
I originally wanted to be a teacher.I’ve always stayed involved in theeducation side. I really think educa-tion is the key to all ethnic groups, whether Native America, Hispanic,or African-American. If you get theeducation, you will get better-paying jobs and you will naturally bring upthe standard of living for your fam-ily. So that’s where I focus most of my giving: to programs, particularly scholarship programs, to send minor-ity students to college. We did a lotof high school programs to encour-age students to get involved withSTEM, and there was always a col-lege scholarship component of it. Weare involved in the American IndianCollege Fund which gives to tribalcolleges and universities.
Do you think Native American-owned and -operated businesses are growing?
Not at the rate that I would like.The problem again comes back tothe fact that American Indian stu-dents in K-12 represent 1% of thetotal students in the United States.But only 1% of that 1% will actually complete a bachelor’s degree at a col-lege or university. Of that, those stu-dents that will get a bachelor’s degreethere is a very small percent that willget a graduate or doctorate degree.So until that change, I don’t think you will see as many successful largeIndian-owned businesses by individ-uals or entrepreneurs. When peopletalk about Indian businesses, usually they refer to businesses that havebeen started by Indian tribes. Thosebusinesses and my business struggleto find qualified Indian people thathave the necessary STEM degreesto fill the job openings we have. Westill have a priority preference hir-ing for minority students, but wehave trouble filling those jobs. Withan unemployment rate that is 9%,you would think you would be ableto find a lot of qualified people forthose jobs. Skilled people with thedegrees are hard to find. So, it comesback to education.
What do you think is the most important issue facing Native Americans today?
The proliferation of drugs onreservations. Minority or not, my rational is that people that don’t havea job lose their self-esteem and can’tprovide for their families are moresusceptible to turn to alcohol anddrugs. When they do that, they getinto a spiral that is very difficult forthem to cover from. We just keep
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NATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN & ALASKAN NATIvE HERITAGE