A new app connects shoppers with more than 500 Native-owned businesses in the Southwest, from beauty salons to food carts to car repair shops. It’s called “Rez Rising” and it’s designed to give tourists access to authentic products and experiences on tribal lands, while giving a boost to local economies. One of its creators is Heather Fleming, executive director of Change Labs, a nonprofit incubators for Native businesses. She spoke with KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny about the vision behind Rez Rising.
Melissa Sevigny: Just tell me how this app works.
Heather Fleming: It basically functions like Yelp, where you can search by keyword, by category, or by location, to help you narrow in on where you might find a Native small business to support with whatever you may need, whether it be muffins, or someone to do some plaster work, or screen printing. There’s a whole host of businesses on there.
So are these businesses that are located on reservations, or also off reservations; if they’re owned by a Native American, they’re in there?
It’s both. I’ll admit when we originally created Rez Rising our intent was to focus primarily on tribal lands. But once we stated collecting the data—by that I mean we went to the Navajo Nation fairs… and we were recruiting small businesses to sign up for Rez Rising, and there’s a lot of the diaspora that were coming home for those fairs and it didn’t seem right to exclude them. It initiated a conversation within in our own team on who need to include, in that we shouldn’t punish entrepreneurs who’d gone off the reservation because they had to, by necessity, in order to grow you usually do have to go the border towns or urban areas. So that expanded our scope.
You mentioned the diaspora, you’re talking about tribal members that have had had to leave tribal lands to go find work?
Yeah. I’m one of them. I live in Denver and I commute to work on the Navajo Nation…. When I’m driving across the rez, I don’t know where to eat in Many Farms or the best frybread in Shiprock. So I see myself as a user. But I do emphasize tourists a lot, just because there’s so much untapped potential there. I think tourists, too, want more authentic experiences, but when you drive into Tuba the first thing you see is a Dennys and a McDonalds.
So how do you hope this new app, Rez Rising, is going to help Native entrepreneurs?
We hadn’t sampled the entire 500 plus businesses but we’re assuming for a majority of them this is their first time with any sort of online presence. That’s one of our big goals. The modern world is online. If you want to grow your business on Navajo, you can’t limit it to just your neighbors and your local community, you need to start thinking about how you’re going to attract off-reservation customers, non-Native customers. Really the only way to do that these days is by being online. But how do you do that when internet is hard to come by or a computer is hard to come by? Rez Rising is trying to bridge that gap for a lot of these entrepreneurs.
Tell me about some of the businesses that I would be able to find if I went on Rez Rising right now.
One of my favorite silversmiths in Tuba City is Deel Jewelry. He’s been doing this for decades, he’s a very seasoned silversmith, but his work is hard to come by, because it’s hard to get access to him. He just had created a Facebook page about 2 years ago. So Rez Rising is a way to expand that online presence, but it’s things like that, these really hidden gems—for him, literally, cause he’s a jeweler. But these people that have been embedded in the community for decades, the community knows him, but the people he would benefit the most from, which are tourists, and people who are looking for authentic, traditional, but also innovative jewelry, they would never know he exists. I was so proud to have this profile on there.
Heather Fleming, thanks so much for joining me today.
Thanks for having me.