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Indigenous professionals share advice on achieving success, navigating failures

Panelists offer hopeful message at Success for Native America discussion
Panelists, from left to right: Keana Kaleikini, Joshuaa D. Allison-Burbank, Carma Claw, Dominic Martinez, Ahsaki LaFrance-Chachere and moderator Swarvoski Little met Monday night at Fort Lewis College to discuss their routes to success at the Success for Native America event. (Nicholas Johnson/Durango Herald)

Leaders in the Indigenous community in business, health care and education told students to embrace failure and learn from it at the Success for Native America 2022 panel hosted Monday by Fort Lewis College, First Southwest Bank and the First Southwest Community Fund.

The event was created by Swarvoski Little from First Southwest Bank with assistance of FLC staff members to address the challenges and advantages associated with attaining success as an Indigenous person.

“As Native American and Indigenous students make up 46% of our student population representing 185 tribes and Alaska Native villages, it is crucial that we continue to provide support and opportunities in meaningful ways,” said Jenni Trujillo, dean of FLC’s School of Education and interim associate vice president of Diversity Affairs in a news release.

Meet the panelists

Ahsaki LaFrance-Chachere, a Diné and African American woman, was selected as a panelist because of her business experience as the founder and CEO of Ah-Shi Beauty, the first Native American full cosmetics and skin care company in the United States.

Panelist Carma Claw, a Diné, offered insight as an assistant professor of management for the School of Business Administration at FLC.

Keana Kaleikini, who is Diné and Hawaiian, spoke on the panel as an environmental scientist and epidemiologist for the state of New Mexico and associate director of collective medicine.

Dominic Martinez spoke as a co-owner of the Leland House Suites of Durango, and is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Dr. Joshuaa D. Allison-Burbank, Diné and Acoma Pueblo, spoke as an assistant scientist and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and founder and executive director of Rainbow Farms Therapy Group.

What is success?

Little moderated the event, asking panelists how they decided what they wanted to do. Kaleikini and Allison-Burbank said there was no direct path for their success.

“Success in Western culture is very well defined as having a career and making money and reaching this American dream,” Kaleikini said. “I think it’s important to note that success in Native country is a little bit different.”

Kaleikini said that lived experience can be just as important as education in figuring out what paths someone wants to take to find a definition of success.

Panelists were asked what advice they would give their past selves. Some said it is important to seek out mentorship, and to learn from failures.

“If you’re going into business, prepare for setbacks, and prepare for failure,” LaFrance-Chachere said. “There’s a lot of trial and error in life and there’s a lot of trial and error in business. Those moments are steppingstones for you to be successful. They’re learning stages.”

Panelists spoke to disadvantages and other challenges they overcame on their routes to success. Some of the disadvantages noted were limited resources and discrimination. Most of the panelists said the way they overcame disadvantages was by networking and finding support through things like mentorship and community.

“Society expects us to succeed at the same rate as everyone else, and we’re constantly compared to these counterparts who, frankly, have much less barriers than us,” Kaleikini said. “One of the foremost things you have to do is figure out what those barriers are and find support.”

All of the panelists said they are hopeful for the future of Native communities.

“We are at a point now as Indigenous communities where we have Native teachers, Native lawyers, Native physicians, landowners and business owners,” Allison-Burbank said. “Now we can speak in our own sectors, our own spaces, and be leaders and drive change.”

About 40 people attended the talk in person, with another 40 or so listening live online.


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