Who can forget the glorious presence of American Indians during Salt Lake City's Winter Olympics?
Well, apparently quite a few people.
Despite the opening ceremony with its Olympic drum circles, legends and tribal lore not to mention the impressive and dynamic Discover Navajo Pavilion not much business came out of the Olympics for Utah's native tribes. In fact, because of 9/11 and other concerns, the Navajo Nation lost $2.7 million trying to lure business interests and tourists onto Utah's reservations.
Now, they're taking a new route. American Indians are nothing if not resilient, and they are currently pushing for prosperity by linking with industry and the free market the standard way. On April 22, the new Utah Native American Chamber of Commerce will have a break-out celebration. The hope is the new chamber will aid in developing business leaders and push tribes closer to self-reliance. Chamber president Cal Nez (whose decision to keep alcohol and American Indians from being linked during the Olympics proved to be a deft public relations move), sees the chamber the fifth among Utah's ethnic groups as a true legacy for generations to come.
We agree. Until now, the courtship between mainstream markets and native tribes has been rocky at best leading to some unfortunate debacles and often forcing tribal members to "commute" to other states to work. Even the Goshute push to become a repository for nuclear waste ended up on the rocks. And many American Indians now balk at the way casinos have changed their world.
But Nez and others are not looking back. They see the future, and that's a productive and prosperous way to go about things.
American Indians who live on reservations must learn to adjust from a "pastoral world" to the troubling but inevitable truth of life in a consumer society. Nez is a good leader to help others catch the vision and learn the ropes.
We wish the new chamber well and hope many in the business community will help them kindle and keep the self-reliance and security that have always been part of native heritage.