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Diversity Journal | National American Indian & Alaskan Native Heritage Month Q&A

Diversity Journal | National American Indian & Alaskan Native Heritage Month Q&A

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What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the first Americans has resulted in a whole month of recognition for native peoples.
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the first Americans has resulted in a whole month of recognition for native peoples.

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Published by: Profiles in Diversity Journal on Dec 05, 2011
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12/08/2011

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Please tell me about your Native American heritage.
I am a member of the TurtleMountain Chippewa Tribe of NorthDakota. Our reservation is very closeto the Canadian border. This is avery small tribe. It was one of thebands that was relocated from theNew England area, migrated acrossthe top of the Great Lakes, andcame down and settled in SouthernSaskatchewan, North Dakota, andMontana. After the Indian Wars wereover, we ended up with a very smallland grant around Belcourt, NorthDakota. When some of the tribalmembers in Canada came down toNorth Dakota, there wasn’t enoughland for all of the tribe, so we weregiven land in western North Dakotaand over into Montana. It was onthis other land, which is called anIndian Service area, which is whereI grew up. We moved over to theFt. Beck Reservation when I was tenyears old, and we lived right on theedge of the reservation in Montana.I’ve grown up around Indian reserva-tions and tribal lands throughout my childhood. 
How has your Native Americanheritage affected your business,from its beginning to now?
The thing that has had the impact
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profiles in Diversity Journal
 
 Nb/Db 2011
n 1990, President GeorGe H. BusH aPProved a joint resolution desiGnatinG novemBer as nationalamerican indian HeritaGe montH. similar Proclamations Have Been issued eacH year since 1994.
 
Today, the United States works closely with 564 federally recognized tribes toensure that each has a strong voice in shaping policies that directly impact the nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. We’d like to introduce you to some leaders who have made significant contributionsof their own, and celebrate their heritage as First Americans.
National American
interview
what starteD at the turN of the ceNtury  as aN effort to gaiN a Day of recogNitioN  forthe first americaNshas resulteD iN a whole moNth of recogNitioN for Native peoples
i
Prayer at SunriSe*Z tsl b rh L. Bzl
nw hs  M su fher,nw h u hve cme u sg  ur scre plce,th frm whch we rw he wer f lfe,Prer mel,Here i gve  u.yur lg lfe,yur l ge,yur wers,yur sees,yur rches,yur pwer yur srg spr,all hese  me m u gr.
 J s. wn
Ch exc ocnw W tchg
*Source:
Earth Always Endures: Native American Poems,
Selected by Neil Philip
 
 
 Nb/Db 2011
 
 WWW.DiversityJournal.Com
59
I’ve always been involved in en-ergy. My formal education is fromMontana State University andUniversity of Berkeley. I becameheavily involved in different en-ergy technologies; I worked for the Atomic Energy Commission andI was on a presidential panel forPresident Carter. I worked at na-tional labs. One of the last projectsI worked on was helping to set upthe Solar Energy Research Institute, which is now called the NationalRenewable Energy Laboratory inColorado. I had seventeen years of research back at those labs before Istarted to go into private businessmyself. I’ve been involved in severalon our company is a program inthe small business administrationcalled the AA Minority ContractingProgram, where individuals thatare economically disadvantaged canapply. Certain federal contracts areset aside for disadvantaged AA busi-nesses. When I first started thiscompany in mid-1996, I wanted tocreate a company that was going tohelp Indian tribes handle their ener-gy issues. We did a lot of work withIndian tribes, helping them formutility companies, negotiate contractsand provide low-cost electricity totheir members on their reservations.In 2002, we restructured our wholecompany so I could apply for and getthis AA status. We started to work for primarily federal agencies. That’sreally when our company started togrow rapidly. We still work for someof those tribal organizations, suchas the Administration for Native Americans, which is a sub-agency fordevelopment of Indian tribes. TheIndian heritage is what allowed meto get the company AA-status. Weare now competing head-to-head with larger companies, on the basisof our technical capabilities for pro-viding services.
 What was your background before starting up New West Technologies?
Williamson and son raising a wind turbine.
Indian & Alaskan
Native Heritage
 
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profiles in Diversity Journal
 
 Nb/Db 2011
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
 N lk
pd d Ceoih
if  g h c,  wll g b-pg jbs  wll ll bg p h s f lvg f fml.
— Jm S. Wllms
interview
NATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN & ALASKAN NATIvE HERITAGE

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