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Tuba City celebrates grand opening of “Entrepreneurship Hub”

Change Labs

A ribbon cutting ceremony Friday will celebrate the grand opening of a new entrepreneurial hub and community center in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation. It’s run by Change Labs, a Navajo-led nonprofit group. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with executive director Heather Fleming about how it will support Native American-owned businesses and a Native vision of entrepreneurship.

Briefly tell me what Change Labs is, and your vision.

Change Labs is a Native-led and Native-controlled nonprofit…. What we do is, we provide entrepreneurship support to Native American small businesses, entrepreneurs, artisans, vendors…. So we exist to help people get from the idea to—ideally to something like we now have set up, where they have a physical place where they can run their business on the Nation.

Tell me about this brand-new physical space—I guess first, does the building have a name? Are you calling it something?

We’re calling it the Entrepreneurship Hub or E-ship Hub. And really we’d like to have E-ship hubs throughout the Navajo Nation… At the moment when people need to access—if they have a question about business or want to know how do I pay this tax or what’s the difference between a nonprofit structure and an LLC, which one makes more sense for me, they have to travel off the reservation to get those kinds of questions answered.

If you walk into this building what kind of resources can you expect to find?

If you walk into the building immediately you would be greeted by my colleague Racquel Black…. She can help people sign up for a one-on-one coaching session if they have a very specific challenge that they want to talk with somebody about. She can also direct you to some of the resources we have, like, there’s all kinds of great equipment in this space, in addition to free Wi-Fi and color printing, things like that. Which sounds small, but again, a lot of the entrepreneurs we serve are running their business from their home. They report that they often don’t have a dedicated space in their home to do their work. Some of them say even accessing a printer can be a hardship.

Tell me about some of the businesses that Change Labs have helped foster over the last couple of years.

This work is really challenging. It’s a long dusty bumpy rez road. It’s the entrepreneurs that we work with, I think, that really inspire us or remind us why we do what we do…. We are about to graduate a cohort of 11 entrepreneurs this Saturday… One of them that sticks out for me is Albert Haskie, he’s working on an app that helps people identify their clans and also their relationships between each other…. We also have Carlos Deal of AlterNativeEats. Oh, man, Navajo sushi exists! And he is the master.

What is your vision for future of this space? What are you hoping—best case scenario, what is this going to turn into?

I think there is a movement right now in tribal communities across the U.S., a movement toward supporting our entrepreneurs. For the first time in a long time, I feel like there is a sense of Native entrepreneurship. For a long time, even in our community on Navajo, I feel like that’s not a term that people used or took a lot of pride in. I’ve talked quite a bit about how in Navajo we don’t have a direct word or concept for entrepreneur or business. I think that’s part of the challenge, when we talk about these things, we talk about it in the context—it’s something we’re borrowing from another culture… when the reality is Native people have been entrepreneurs long before Christopher Columbus and crew showed up in what is now the United States. So I feel like we’re on the cusp of a revitalization of sorts, and that’s really exciting.

Heather Fleming, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Thanks for having me.

The Entrepreneurship Hub ribbon cutting ceremony begins Friday at 10am local time, next door to the Tuba City Chapter House. More information here.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.