With the shopping season going into overdrive, we want to make a recommendation: Support Native American-owned businesses.
You may be surprised to learn that the small business ownership rate for Native Americans is over 25 percent — the highest rate for any racial group studied. Yet this high entrepreneurship rate has not translated to broad economic prosperity. In fact, Native Americans suffer the highest poverty rate — and lowest income — of all major racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
For years, our country has seen non-Native Americans profiting off the packaging and selling of Native American history, spirit, and culture. We see Native-American-inspired outdoor clothing, health-related products, and entertainment being packaged and sold — not by indigenous communities, but often by white Americans.
Besides the commercial disregard for the cultural context of these products, profiting off the culture of a people who to this day remain economically disenfranchised continues a tragic and shameful history dating back to first contact.
Even on designated reservation land — sovereign Native territory — there is a large proportion of non-Native businesses running grocery stores, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. This takes the already low income of Native Americans and transfers it quickly out of their communities.
We recently completed a Google Maps survey of the three largest reservations the Navajo Nation, Pine Ridge, and Fort Apache Reservations. Again and again, we saw chains like Wal-mart and Giant dominating this sovereign land.
A decade ago, an Institute for Policy Studies report found that it would take about 100 years for an individual on a reservation to accumulate only one half of the wealth that an average American citizen already has today. More recently, a National Community Reinvestment Coalition snapshot found that the median income on reservations is just $29,097 — far lower than the national median, and lower even than the median for Native Americans overall.
Changes in national policy are essential to addressing the economic disenfranchisement of Native peoples. But in the meantime, we want to encourage you to put your dollars towards Native American businesses this holiday season.
You can buy a range of clothing, art, jewelry, and health products from outlets like the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre Online Store, the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, Manitobah Mukluks, Jamie Okuma, NSRGNTS, Neechie Gear, TSOul, NATE, Northwest Native Expressions, and Indigo Arrows.
At Booklist Reader, you can also find a reading list of 10 excellent books by Native Americans.
Use these businesses to help complete your holiday gift list — and to pay tribute to our country’s first peoples.