The HUSTLA: Female Bosses In Indian Country

By Danielle Tavasti, MSW/Hope Nation Policy Intern and Stephanie Gutierrez, Hope Nation Director of Communications and Community Engagement

Who doesn’t know “Diva is the female version of a hustla”, the repeated chorus in the empowering and catchy song “Diva” released in 2008, almost 11 years ago? (Thanks Queen Bey!) Beyoncé, like many other women of color, understand that when it comes to women making money and providing for their families, we can always find a path to creating multiple streams of income. We all have that grandma or auntie, you know, the one who pulls cash out of her bosom or a secret tin in the kitchen when you need some cash to get you through. They understand the needs of a family and the importance of a back-up for those unforeseen events like a funeral, ceremony, or giveaways. So where did that money come from?  

In honor of International Women's Day, the team at Hope Nation wants to share how hustlin’ has not only been a generational thing for Native Women but with the hustle comes strong, innate, attributes for entrepreneurship. Let’s face it, the needs of the people are our needs and we do whatever it takes to make stuff happen. Whether it’s selling burritos on the corner or multi-level marketing, selling purses or hustling candles, women have what it takes to be business owners and build economies regardless of their education, bank account or circumstances.

Native women have been utilizing the ‘gig economy’, using non-traditional professions to gain income, for millennial. As early as the 17th century, Native women provided for their families through the fur trade, beading and other forms of creative expression. They understood how to adapt to the needs of traders, their local clientele, and worked across cultures when needed, a skill that is still present today. For graduate student Simona Charles, a proud Latina and member of the Shoshone & Paiute Tribe, her grandmother embodied being a ‘hustla.’ “My grandma and grandpa spoke very little english, but my grandma would make cradle boards and sell them to local museums for way less than their worth, that's how we’d make ends meet.” Marketing coordinator Kriselle Mendoza, a proud Filipina and diversity activist for people of color in creative spaces, has had her own obstacles with becoming a ‘hustla.’ “One thing I’ve learned in doing this [in trying to create a creative space] myself and working with other people, is that people of color definitely need a lot more resources because a lot of us did not grow up in families that have the capital or means to help us start our own business.”

Currently for Native women, our presence has increased in the business world both formally and informally. From 1997 to 2013, Native American and Alaska Native women-owned businesses grew by 108%, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women-owned businesses grew by 216%. Although this increase has occurred, many challenges still exist in relation to financing, understanding vendor policies and maintaining a consistent customer base.

            Hustling and finding ways to survive and thrive has always been a motto for entrepreneur and stay-at-home mom, Rae Tall, a member of the Oglala/Sicangu Lakota tribes. “I was always hustling, whether it was selling some of my kid’s old toys and clothes online, beadwork, helping another Native woman with babysitting, or selling food out of my car (breakfast burritos, Indian tacos). As a Native woman, people underestimate what we have to go through.” More importantly, what we’ll do to make ends meet, huh Rae?

            According to Entrepreneur magazine, there are seventeen skills every entrepreneur must have in order to succeed. Besides the obvious abilities to manage and raise money, focus on your customers and market your product, you also have to be able to effectively hire, train, and manage staff, be productive, and deal with failure. The first are things, regardless of who you are, that can be gained through experience, small business trainings, and/or mentors who are already doing it. The later are all things that women, especially mothers, have been doing since time immemorial. We have instincts that, when used at full capacity, tell us about someone’s character the second me meet them. Typically, we have managed families, siblings, community groups, acquiring management skills along the way. We also know how to be productive. There isn’t a woman around who hasn’t had to work hard for something. Native women and women of color, in particular, know how to deal with failure. We cry, call a family member or friend, talk it out and get back up the next day and keep moving. We know how to focus on our customers, especially local customers, because we tend to focus on our families and our community’s well-being, to a fault at times. We also know how to close a sale. We’ve all been in that place where the pain exceeded the fear, so much so that we pushed through and made rent, found a tire, paid the lunch money, or made sure there was plenty of food for a ceremony or graduation celebration. Often, we were holding our breath and terrified it might not happen, but we “closed the sale!” The last ability the magazine lists is the ability to improve your world. This surprised me coming out of Entrepreneur magazine but at the same time, it made me smile and say, “we got this.” Nowhere is it more apparent that women want to improve our world than the last mid-term elections. With Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland in Congress, and Peggy Flanagan as Lt. Governor, we see what can happen when we take the fear away and just say, “What if?” What if I have all that it takes to become an entrepreneur? What if I can get the resources and the capital needed to have a business and support my community? What if I already have most of what it takes to do this?

Through our everyday, lived experience, Native women and women of color continue to illustrate the skills and abilities needed to be entrepreneurs and how to navigate the world of opportunity. In the words of Queen Bey, we ask you to “take it to another level” and stay tuned to Hope Nation here or follow us on twitter at @HopeNation5 to learn more about supporting and expanding community wealth building opportunities for Native women entrepreneurs. We believe you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and we are working hard to make that happen.