The summit attracted more than 4,000 attendees and representatives from 500 tribes and provided a platform for tribal leaders to share their ideas, strategies, and visions for improving the economic conditions of Native Americans, with a huge focus this year on energy infrastructure. RES 2023 gave insight into creating new opportunities for tribal citizens to use their tribal and entrepreneurial resources to create lasting change in Native American communities.

Louisiana tribes alone own more than 70 tribal enterprises across the state and beyond. From agriculture to hospitality and more, these businesses are essential to provide opportunities and resources for our Louisiana tribal communities to grow and prosper.

Tribal leaders and tribal business representatives from Louisiana, including Marshall Pierite (chairman & CEO, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana), Melissa Darden (chairman, Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana), Crystal Williams (vice-chairwoman, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana), Jessica Myers (chief operating officer, Tunica Biloxi Industries, LLC) took part in many of the panel discussions, highlighting their own experiences in entrepreneurship, as well as their Tribal enterprises.

Williams participated on the panel “Native Women in Leadership: Women Innovating in Business and Beyond,” in which panelists explained how women are the backbone of family and our tribal communities, primary breadwinners for their families, formal and informal leaders, and entrepreneurs, despite facing obstacles and biases by maintaining resiliency.

Williams’ role on the Coushatta Tribal Council is expansive. Not only is she responsible for overseeing the governmental affairs of the tribe and the Coushatta Casino Resort, but she also helped revitalize and modernize the language in the Coushatta Section 17 charter to provide the next generation with continuity and growth in carrying out future economic development opportunities for the Tribe. She went on to talk about her influence in leadership and growing the tribal economy.

Before being elected, she said, she was the cultural preservation coordinator at the Coushatta Heritage Department, tasked with doing research history and documenting stories and the Koasati language from elders and revitalizing various traditional arts throughout the community. 

“I interviewed one elder who lost her mother at a very early age, she had to raise her siblings by herself, as her father was having a difficult time with the loss of his wife,” Williams said. “Days would go by without food, and she knew she had to do something to keep herself and her siblings fed and alive. The only thing she knew to do at such a young age was to make pine-needle baskets, the traditional art of the Coushatta. 

“So, she began to make several at a time, she would haggle prices in town and with passersby in exchange for food and money, selling them at trade stores in the area. And as she grew older, she started showing her baskets at art shows, and now she has pine-needle baskets shown all over the state of Louisiana and the country, including the Smithsonian Museum. 

“This story, as it was told to me, was very emotional for this elder due to her recalling some of the hardest times of her life.  It was a struggle, but she survived.  Today, we would call this lady an entrepreneur.  Back in her day, it was called survival.”     

Individual New Orleans native-owned businesses also highlighted their own entrepreneurial forward-thinking success by announcing new companies and the rebranding of their organizations created to give back to Indian County.

Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, Donald Cravins, Jr., from St. Landry Parish, gave a keynote address, pledging a focus on Indian Country entrepreneurship and building capital capacity for small business owners in Indian Country. Cravins also promised to continue the conversations and future action items on expanding entrepreneurial opportunities for economic development in Indian Country and “Empowering For Generations.”

The economic development of Indian Country is growing across Louisiana and New Orleans, providing access to education, job training, housing, and other resources that promote economic growth in tribal citizens. Together we can ensure that the next generations of Native Americans will have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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Brandi Liberty is an enrolled member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska and a descendant of the United Houma Nation in Southern Louisiana. She is the owner of The Luak Group and its subsidiary...