How do you say “entrepreneur” in Navajo?

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $25 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018.  Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant to Catapult Design and Native Realities to support their work to redefine Indigenous entrepreneurship. The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“It is energizing to see the impact that the arts are making throughout the United States. These NEA-supported projects, such as this one by Catapult Design, are good examples of how the arts build stronger and more vibrant communities, improve well-being, prepare our children to succeed, and increase the quality of our lives,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “At the National Endowment for the Arts, we believe that all people should have access to the joy, opportunities and connections the arts bring.”

Catapult Design’s Heather Fleming (Dine’) and Native Realities’ Lee Francis (Laguna) will be working together throughout 2018 to convene Native entrepreneurs and elders representing Southwest tribes in order to establish a lexicon of words used to describe the traits of Native American entrepreneurs. The lexicon, they hope, can be used to identify or create words in Native languages that describe entrepreneurial activity and characteristics. “Our ultimate goal,” describes Heather Fleming, co-founder and Principal at Catapult Design, “is to help weave entrepreneurship into our Native cultural identity. Lee and I are both entrepreneurs and we are both lucky to be surrounded by other Native entrepreneurs who are trying to use their business to better our Native communities by providing jobs, needed services, giving back to the community, and so on. This is what it means to be a 21st century entrepreneur.”

Francis’ company, Native Realities, will take the project one step further by working with a Navajo illustrator to develop characters and storylines depicting Native entrepreneurship in a comic book or graphic novel format. Native Realities is an Albuquerque-based comic book company publishing stories that empower Native and Indigenous youth. “The stories coming out of Native Realities speak to the dreams of modern and contemporary Native people,” says Francis. “This project is an opportunity to create a new archetype for Native people.”