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Our Tribal Business News reporters and contributors picked their favorite stories they worked on in 2023, including reports on tribal broadband challenges, sovereign immunity threats, the cost of Native housing, teaching Native youths financial literacy, and several inspiring stories about Indigenous entrepreneurs. 

Elyse Wild, senior editor

While Indian Country is experiencing an economic surge, poverty rates in Native communities are among the highest in the Nation. I loved exploring how instilling financial literacy in Native youth is the key to seven-generation economic prosperity in, "Investing in Youth: Teaching financial literacy to young Native Americans."  My interview subjects included three brothers — members of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe in Montana — who are saving money through the Blackfeet Mini Bank program, which facilitates banking for Native youth and teaches them the basics of personal finance. These skills, which can be taught to anyone, can transform the life of a family and the future of a community — and are crucial to tribes exercising their sovereignty to its fullest extent. Learning from people who dedicate their lives to empowering Indian Country through financial literacy was enormously inspiring. 

Chez Oxendine, staff reporter

This year we spent a lot of ink on the emerging broadband situation in Indian Country, as tribes grapple with an unprecedented - and still insufficient - amount of funding and very little guidance in how to use it. We charted the rise of consultancies, how to find partners, and the importance of controlling the resulting circuit.

Perhaps our most impactful story centered on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment grant, which distributed $42 billion to all US states and territories for use in standing up new broadband infrastructure. Tribal broadband experts shared with us the perils of poor data and potential lockouts from the single biggest tranche of funding available, and we shone a light on what tribes should prepare for when approaching state agencies for further assistance in the wake of woefully inadequate federal funding opportunities.

Meanwhile, we charted successes and growth in Indian Country, pointing to small businesses finding their footing amid growth challenges and new markets. My favorite of these was Pemmican Patty,a Bismarck, North Dakota-based food company leaning on a centuries-old recipe to make an increasingly popular protein bar. 

More than anything, these stories are uniquely Native, tracking innovative entrepreneurs as they utilize traditional knowledge and tribal resources to share something Indigenous with the world around them. Getting the opportunity to tell Pemmican Patty’s story of astronomic success - and associated growing pains - was a personal and professional highlight.

Kaili Berg, staff reporter

Whether it’s a clothing line incorporating traditional designs and materials, or pages of a family cookbook binding together traditional Diné recipes, Tribal Business News has provided a platform for Indigenous Entrepreneurs across Indian Country, sharing these businesses with the wider world. These individuals show remarkable resilience and innovation in crossing unique challenges and barriers while creating successful businesses that strengthen their own and their communities’ well-being, all at the same time.

One of my favorite stories, a family-operated business called Thunder Voice Hat Co., really inspired me as I traced Lehi Thunder Voice Eagle’s path, talent, creativity, and resilience behind his brand.Not only did Thunder Voice Eagle start a successful upcycled hat and clothing company, but he also showcased his creations in fashion shows for designer Bethany Yellowtail (Northern Cheyenne, Crow) and international fashion model Quannah Chasinghorse (Hän Gwich'in, Sicangu-Oglala Lakota).

As a Native beader myself, his story sparks inspiration and support for the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs who will continue to make a lasting impact on their communities and beyond.

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Mark Fogarty, contributing writer

My favorite story for Tribal Business News in 2023 was part of a package I did on Native housing, which encapsulated just about everything I’ve learned from covering tribal housing for the past 30 years. I asked a bunch of tribal leaders to ballpark how much it would take to solve the housing crisis on all tribal homelands in the United States (didn’t go into the urban areas; will leave that for someone else.) The estimates I got ranged from $30 billion to $60 billion. It doesn’t sound like a lot if you say it fast.

Tamara Ikenberg, contributing writer

My favorite story of the year is Striding Towards the Future,” because Rebekah Jarvey is one of the hardest working, most original, authentic and influential forces in Indigenous fashion, as well as an amazing single mother who includes her model son Royce in everything she does. I’ve been covering her progress over the past three years and it is a pleasure to follow her and bring her work and positive energy to readers. 

Brian Edwards, managing editor

Native nations find their way to the Supreme Court all too often, as special interests leverage the courts to attack tribal sovereignty. 2023 was no exception with landmark rulings on ICWA and the Navajo Nation’s water rights, but there was also another case last term that sparked my interest because it involved tribal bankruptcy rights and sovereign immunity. I enjoyed the deep dive into legal documents and amicus briefs, as well as discussions with attorneys about the case’s potential impact on doing business in Indian Country. I didn’t expect the high court’s unfavorable ruling on Lac du Flambeau vs. Coughlin to drop the same day SCOTUS issued its ruling on the ICWA case, but working on both stories simultaneously that day made it that much more memorable. There will be more to this story in 2024, and we’ll be tracking it. 

Be sure to check out our top 10 most-read news stories of the year, 11 important articles about access to capital in Indian Country, and 12 stories about inspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs

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