Helping Each Other Succeed: Words of Encouragement by Native Women in Business

Sisterhood of Indigenous Bosses: these Native women bosses share their advice on opening up a business, words of encouragement for others, & more.

Sisterhood of Indigenous Bosses: these Native women bosses share their advice on opening up a business, words of encouragement for others, & more.

Starting your business is hard work. But for an indigenous woman, it seems impossible. These fierce indigenous women decided to break away from their careers and start their businesses. Now, they are their own bosses and contribute to the economy, all the while holding their hands out for other indigenous women to follow.

LLoree “LL” Dickens | CEO of LL Designs, LLC

Lloree Dickens (Arikara/Hidatsa/White Earth Chippewa) is certainly making a name for herself in the entrepreneurial footwear world with her ready-to-wear moccasins. However, you’d be surprised at the constant struggles and backlash she faces on the daily. Dickens shares her words of encouragement and how you can help Native women succeed.   

Lloree Dickens. Photo: courtesy

Where did you grow up?

New Town, North Dakota on Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation.

What is LL Designs?

My business is a moccasin/footwear company, although we offer other artisan products as well such as jewelry, accessories, and art. The primary focus is moccasins.

When did you decide to start your own business?

I decided to start my business because I was tired of seeing big corporate footwear companies benefiting and profiting off of the “Native” name and designs; using cheap, synthetic materials and being mass-produced, calling them “Native American-made.”

What’s the hardest part of having your own business? What keeps you going?

The hardest part of having my own business stems primarily from scalability. Keeping up with the volume of demand and shortening delivery timeframes, while remaining authentically Native-made is the most challenging. All of LL Designs’ moccasins are handmade so inherently; the construction process is more time consuming than those made by machines mass-produced outside of the United States. The business model is both individual and customer-based and wholesale. We partner and provide wholesale orders to retailers throughout the world, so meeting deliverables within a reasonable timeframe is the hardest part of my business, yet also the most critical aspect of my business that keeps me going. LL Designs is one of the first footwear companies providing authentic moccasins or “mocc-shoes” in the nation that is Native-owned, Native-made, and Made in the U.S.

Another issue, however, that has surfaced several isn’t necessarily a problem with LL Designs internally, but somewhat externally from fellow Native Americans. To participate and successfully compete in the mainstream footwear industry and not just Indian Country, my moccasin designs are created with both traditional and contemporary customers in mind. Surprisingly, this seems to upset many in Indian Country, sparking negative comments about my designs, which my moccs “aren’t Indian enough.” I can honestly say that the majority of the criticism I have received from my company and my footwear have come from not outside of Indian Country, but within. I design and sell to all genres of fashion, not just Native American. In order to be a successful company, it’s a must that my moccasin designs are not only traditionally constructed for powwow and regalia purposes, but also have vibrant and unique beadwork that have crossover appeal to interests and styles such as bohemian, vintage, Native, hip-hop, hipster, vibrant, pop, artsy, casual, comfort, tomboy, masculine, chic, music, sophisticated, gypsy, weddings, formal, cultural, the list goes on. As a Native American woman, I cherish my culture and traditions as most of us do, but I’m also an artist, which is expressed through my designs. I genuinely believe that to remain relevant in today’s global business world; Native American businesses have to find ways to merge our traditional culture with the modern world, not only for our immediate success but also for future female entrepreneurs of Indian Country.  

Why is it essential for Native women to help each other and work together? Why do you think that is?

This is an excellent segue from the last question. My educational background is in Psychology. So being a former counselor, I know that self-worth, self-esteem, and identity are vital qualities that help women achieve success in both the professional world and our relationships. Women coming together and supporting each other is empowering, especially amongst Native women. Historically, we Natives have experienced a long history of oppression. I believe, being a Native American woman myself, there is already a psyche of internalized oppression that can sometimes trickle over into all facets of our lives from relationships and friendships to family, work and professional associations. Part of this mentality comes out in forms of competitiveness, comparison, jealousy, lack of self-esteem and self-worth. It’s important for women to encourage each other to pursue their goals because this empowers and helps instill self-worth, confidence, and success. I’m optimistic about the possibility of change in today’s gender gap, especially when it comes to getting more Native women involved in the entrepreneurial world of arts, business and reaching their goals in general. We need more inspired Native women out in the world setting positive examples and showing our young Native American women that they can aspire to be anything they choose.

In your opinion, what are some ways Native women can help each other?  

We often tend to compare ourselves to others. In my opinion, we can help each other by merely embracing each others’ differences, respecting each others’ individuality, while at the same time supporting and being a positive influence on each other.

How do you professionally help other Native women?

I enjoy providing a platform through my company website, which offers Native artists an opportunity to showcase and sell their work to a broader audience while promoting their creations such as jewelry, moccasins, art, and knitwear.

What are your words of encouragement for Native women who are interested in starting their own business?

Remain true to yourself, stay passionate and love what you do. Be persistent, dedicated, work hard and don’t give up. Most importantly, surround yourself with people that are going to “life you up,” rather than tear you down. Entrepreneurship is not easy, but it’s worth it.  Where to shop: www.LLDesignsStore.com


April Tinhorn | Founder of Tinhorn Consulting, LLC

When she found herself on the metaphorical cliff, April Tinhorn (Hualapai/Navajo) leaped from leaving her job and starting her own business. Not only does Tinhorn offer valuable advice to Native women, she mentors and makes connections whenever she’s asked.

April Tinhorn. Photo: Karianne Munstedt

What is your tribe? Where are you from?

I am Hualapai/Navajo/Chinese from Peach Springs, AZ.

Where did you grow up?

​I grew up in Peach Springs, AZ, home of the majestic Hualapai Grand Canyon West and Colorado River. If you haven’t experienced our side of the canyon with our newly-opened zipline, skywalk, and river rafting, you are in for a treat.

What is your business? When did you decide to start your own business?

​I’m the founder of Tinhorn Consulting, LLC. Tinhorn Consulting was born at a significant crossroads in my life. Professionally, I had achieved my dream as I was an executive with a corner office, an assistant, was doing meaningful work in Indian Country, but something was missing. In my mind’s eye, I flashed forward and saw myself in my 60’s, comfortable, but still living for the weekends.  

​I stood on the edge of the metaphorical cliff and knew it was now or never. Was I going to start a business? No one’s happiness depended on me. And so I jumped! Tinhorn Consulting was incorporated on September 10, 2010, and I’ve never looked back.

What’s the hardest part of having your own business?

​The best and, often, the hardest part of having my own business is the freedom! I love the freedom to choose the projects we work on and the clients that we partner with. When and where I work has been a game changer as I have not missed a significant milestone in my six-year-old daughter’s life. However, with all this freedom I can be the biggest roadblock to my company’s progress.

What keeps you going?

The impact of the work we do! ​We primarily work with tribal communities and organizations. Working with our clients, we are a part of the positive movement.

Why is it essential for Native women to help each other and work together? Why do you think that is?

I believe in abundance, not scarcity. When I see another Native woman rise, I cheer her on because her success does not take away from you or me. It was meant for her.  There is so much goodness in the world that there is plenty for us all.

There aren’t that many statistics about ​Native Americans, much less Native American women. According to http://nativewomenlead.org/, two-thirds of all Native women were the family breadwinners in 2017. Two-thirds! For every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic male, Native women only earn fifty-seven cents.​ Women reinvest 90% of our incomes into our families and communities according to https://dreambuilder.org/.  When we help our Native sisters, we ultimately are supporting our communities.

In your opinion, what are some ways Native women can help each other?

​Power of the purse! Make deliberate buying decisions​. Buy your burritos, jewelry, and marketing services directly from Native women entrepreneurs.

How do you personally or professionally help other Native women?

I vividly remember the excitement and fear of starting a new business, so I share lessons learned and resources through my company’s blog, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. I help other Native women through my training, workshops, volunteerism, referrals, and mentoring efforts. If someone reaches out, I try to help or at least connect them with someone who can. Right now I’m tutoring a 15-year-old Navajo girl who wants to improve her networking skills.

What are your words of encouragement for any Native women who are interested in maybe starting their own business?

Seek mentorship and support. Look for resources and peers in the same field. Mentors are willing to help and funders interested in your ideas. Find them. Ask the person who is where you want to be to become your mentor. Respect yourself and others. You are your brand, especially in Indian Country where we are all connected, be intentional in everything you do. Lastly, give back. Just as you needed help, there are others like you needing advice and support.


Jessica Dumas | Founder of Jessica Dumas Coaching & Training

Entrepreneur Jessica Dumas, Ojibwe from Keeseekoowenin First Nation, took a risk when she chose leaving her safe career for being her boss. She explains to us how she made that decision, and how Native women can start their businesses.

Jessica Dumas. Photo: courtesy

What is your tribe? Where are you from?

I am Ojibwe from Keeseekoowenin First Nation in Manitoba Canada.

Where did you grow up?

I am of the third generation of my family to grow up off of the reserve in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

What is your business? When did you decide to start your own business?

My business is Jessica Dumas Coaching & Training, and I am a lifestyle coach that aims to create clarity in chaos situations through positive energy and a facilitator that advances the knowledge of Indigenous history in Canada and the relationship with the government, among several other things.

To tell you about how I started, I should share with you how I began coaching people to maintain a life full of vitality and energy while making transitions to the next level of business, success, love, and life. It started when in 2012, I had to abruptly make a career change for my mental health and safety, and I was leaving a position where I had built a good reputation and vast network. After being depressed and no luck finding work for quite some time, I felt a strong calling to be an independent entrepreneur.

I started off as a contractor, selling my services and skills, by-the-hour planning events, practicing website and online capabilities, ghostwriting and social media behind-the-scenes, and even managed a few short-term projects. I was self-employed sometimes, and eventually, it became full-time. Today, I love my life. I coach women to strengthen leadership and public speaking skills, build confidence and create balance in their lives, all from the practices and techniques that I’ve learned along the way, by talking to elders, counselors, career mentors, life coaches, therapists, and even psychics! I had to believe in myself and use all of my skills to let go of my fears, and become a public speaker and a lifestyle coach.

What’s the hardest part of having your own business? What keeps you going?

The hardest part of having my own business is doing everything that I want to do while getting everything done that I need to get done, like the paperwork and appropriate financial affairs. What keeps me going is that I utilize ‘Mastermind’ networks and, most of all, spend time keeping myself and my spirit open by journaling, visualizing and meditating. It’s helped me make amazing things happen in my life. It keeps me calm when things are wild.

Why is it essential for Native women to help each other and work together? Why do you think that is?

Native women are the life-givers of the most marginalized population in North America. It is essential for us to collaborate and support each other, the way our ancestors did because this is how our nations demonstrated how we continue to remain strong after years and years of oppression. Women, being the heart and leaders of our families, continue to make significant breakthroughs in our economies and our communities. Although Native women are more likely to face violence than non-Native women, and Native women continue to make these strides.

In your opinion, what are some ways Native women can help each other?

The simplest way we can help each other is listening. I think as women, naturally we like to talk with each other, but never underestimate the power and the love that listening provides to someone. Listening and offering a hand, advice when needed and always with no judgment, and offering only acceptance.

How do you professionally help Native women?

I often provide my services at little or no cost to those who are unable to afford it. I use the networks I have made to make connections for employment opportunities. I sit in systems where I am always recruiting Native women to join me and expand their experience, and I host a women’s leadership network Empowering and Law of Attraction group. I listen to women when they need a boost, share empowering posts on my Instagram and Facebook pages to encourage, and acknowledge the likeness of our lives to each other. And always, I help with interview skills, resumes, cover letters and job search, often, for free.

What are your words of encouragement for any Native women who are interested in maybe starting their own business?

We try to do it alone, but we can’t, and we shouldn’t do it alone. Create a team and a network that is supportive to you on your journey, and when possible, work with a coach or mentor! You have to surround yourself with like-minded people; if you don’t know them yet, make a list of a few people that you admire and befriend them! I have several people in my network that I highly respect who I was first intimidated by that have become incredible friends, only because I picked up the phone or sent that email and said, “I’d like to have coffee with you or set up a time online to get to know one another.”

If it is your dream, everything you need is within you to make it happen. If it feels right, then it is right. You only live once and you can’t miss an opportunity. If it is meant to be, the opportunity will continue to come back again and again, until you are 100% ready. When the time is right, you will make the leap. Again and again.


Sarah Howes – CEO of House of Howes

Anishinaabe artist and businesswoman Sarah Agaton Howes is well-known in her community, but not just for her thriving business. She’s also known for helping other Native women, either by mentorship, teaching or getting into shape.

Sarah Agaton Howes with her children. Photo: Ivy Vainio

What is your tribe? Where are you from?

I am Anishinaabe from Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up here in Fond du Lac in my grandma’s house, Reservation Road to be exact.

When did you decide to start your own business?

I started doing custom beadwork and regalia for folks nine years ago when my kids were babies to supplement my family’s income. This grew into teaching moccasin-making and beading. In 2015, I became an Inspired Natives Collaborator with Eighth Generation. Now as the owner of House of Howes, I’ve been able to broaden my Ojibwe floral design into graphic design for a line of contemporary Ojibwe floral products, including wool blankets, clothing, earrings, and custom art for companies and organizations. This has been life-altering. Having a website, the skills to use the Adobe programs, and the mentorship of Louie Gong have all changed my business from meeting folks in parking lots with my baggies of earrings to being a designer. I absolutely couldn’t ask for a better journey with my art.  

Do you enjoy teaching?

I also do a lot of teaching moccasin-making, beadwork and about Ojibwe designs. I started this as a necessity, but it soon became so much more. These “Anishinaabe competencies” as I call them are critical for our healing, our identity, our path forward as Anishinaabe people. There is a moment when people are struggling with making their moccasins where they flip their moccasins right side out. Most of my students don’t have experience making. Their face lights up when they realize they are their grandmothers; they are this beautiful, they are this. I live for that. I love that.

What’s the hardest part of having your own business? What keeps you going?

It’s tough to have faith in your skills, relationships, and belief in what’s possible. It took me awhile to grasp what could happen really. The most important part of having a business has been relationships. I love the building of relationships across tribal, regional, and local communities. This can also be exhausting. I live on a small reservation where everyone knows each other. I feel like I need to be “on” all the time and don’t have the anonymity of a larger city.  

I love what I get to do, and I can see the demand for it. I know people love to have the kind of art we make. My favorite thing is when an elder or respected artist likes my work.  I try hard to keep the art true to our Ojibwe aesthetic while bringing it into the contemporary modern style. When I nail it, I feel amazing. Just like with my beadwork, when its something I would want to rock then I know it’s right.  

Why is it essential for Native women to help each other and work together? Why do you think that is?

As an Anishinaabe person, cultural arts belong to us as a people. None of these cultural arts are mine. Many times people have questioned why I would teach moccasin-making or jingle dress-making as they see it as a threat to my business. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all do better when we all do better.  

I had many incredible teachers including my brother William Howes, my mom Laurel Sanders, Wendy and Karen Savage, and Winnie LaPrairie. These people were always willing to help and support me in learning and broadening my understanding of cultural arts. I only know the little I do because of them.

How do you work with Native women in your community?

For the past six years, I have been one of the organizers of the KwePack, an Indigenous Women’s Running Group. We mentor, recruit, and support Native women in their wellness goals. We do races, weekly runs, and raise funds to sponsor Native women in our area. I have witnessed over and over the incredible transformative power of a group of Native women who rally for each other. I’ve seen women go from being obese to running ultra-marathons.  

In your opinion, what are some ways Native women can help each other?

Laughter, mentoring and accountability. Sometimes we need to be each other’s mirrors, and sometimes we need to call each other out on our BS, lovingly. I see the role of our generation is to crack open the door to allow other Native folks to go through if they choose. When women are doing better, when women are culturally-healing, the whole family is. Women are the backbone, the base, and the fire.  

We help each other in ways from caring for each other’s babies to cooking for each other’s ceremonies, from helping bury each other’s loved ones to providing advice and support on our ideas; also buying each other’s products! The intensity of being a part of a Native community encompasses every part of our life, not just business.

How do you help other Native women?

I bring in other women to learn how to teach moccasin-making. I am working towards a cohort of moccasin teachers across the area. Relationships are everything, both in an Anishinaabe context but also in a business context. I want to bring all these mamas and artists with me to success just like Louie, and other mentors have done.  

A big part of my role in the community is the teaching, encouragement, and support of folks interested in learning cultural arts such as moccasin-making, regalia-making, sewing, and the KwePack. I spend an incredible amount of time just texting people to encourage them or remind them about opportunities and invitations to events, runs, exhibitions, and almost anyone who knows me would call me a loving stalker.  

What are your words of encouragement for any Native women who are interested in starting their own business?

Follow your heart and your gut. Be genuine and authentic. Listen to our people, even in our sickness there are lessons to be learned. Appreciate and utilize your mentors; they will change your life. Take a risk. Reinvest in yourself and your business. Align yourself with your own beliefs, cultural practices, and art ways; this is where your story grows.


Loretta Guzman | Owner of Bison Coffee House

Loretta Guzman, from the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall Idaho, is the founder and owner of the well-known Bison Coffeehouse located in Portland, Oregon. But what inspired her to open up Bison Coffeehouse was a tough journey.

Loretta Guzman. Photo: Collin Gabriel

In 2008, Guzman was diagnosed with stage 4B cancer and with the help of her family and tribe, she underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment. According to Guzman, as she could feel herself dying, she had a dream of a huge bison approaching her. In the dream, she approached him until they were face to face, staring at each other. Her stepfather told her this dream meant she would get better. Guzman eventually went into remission.

A year later, Guzman returned to Portland in 2009 and continued to manage a café while going to school. She then dreamt of opening her own coffeehouse for two years, one that would reflect who she was and her Native heritage in a positive way.

Finally, in late 2014, she opened Bison Coffeehouse in Portland. The artwork in the coffeehouse represents Native artists from across Indian Country, giving local and visiting Natives a place they can identify with. Guzman also opens up her coffeehouse to artists and performers who need a place to display their talents free of charge.

Where did you grow up?

I am from Portland, Oregon. I grew up mainly in Portland, Oregon, but at times my mother would move us back to Fort Hall, Idaho where our Reservation is.

When did you decide to start your own business?

I am the owner of The Bison Coffee House LLC., also known as Native Coffee House. I decided, in 2012, to start my own business. It didn’t open until November 2014.

What’s the hardest part of having your own business? What keeps you going?

The hardest part of having my own business is that I’m the only owner and I am responsible for the whole business day to day, month to month, year to year. What keeps me going is knowing that I am here from the choices my ancestors made to keep us alive.

Why is it essential for Native women to help each other and work together? Why do you think that is?

It is essential for us as Native women to help each other and work together because when we come together, we are stronger and can overcome and succeed. Also, we understand each other. In my opinion how Native women can help each other is listening to each other, helping where we can or when we can and giving that extra support in those areas.

How do you help other Native women, professionally or personally?

How I personally and professionally help other Native women is I keep my doors open for them. For example, when Tawna Sanchez was running for House District 43, she came to me and asked if she could start her campaign at my shop. I said, “yes just let me know when and what time and we will make it happen.” And I also opened my doors for her after-party, and she also won. My neighborhood is the neighborhood that put her over the top and won. I’ve also opened my doors to other Natives to do poetry readings and shows to display their art. I do not charge them as I know we’re all trying to reach bigger goals. And if me opening my doors can help them, I just do it.

What are your words of encouragement for any Native women who are interested in starting their own business?

My words of encouragement for other Native women who are interested in starting their own business is we all have a purpose, and we must push forward and overcome as we are resilient and are more than we are viewed in life.

Keep up with Bison Coffeehouse on their Instagram (@bisoncoffeehouse) and website (www.bisoncoffeehouse.com)

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