Native American Studies
An EnAIBLing Experience
by Caroline Lupfer Kurtz
Nevertheless, in 1994 a plan took root at UM that has blossomed into a nationwide program to improve tribal economic self-sufficiency by building the business and leadership skills of Indian students.
To date, the American Indian Business Leaders program has sprouted chapters in 15 states at 16 tribal colleges, 18 universities, seven high schools and two elementary schools. Two professional chapters one on the Flathead Indian Reservation and one in Billings include members from banks and other businesses, local colleges and Indian agencies.
The overarching goal of AIBL is to help young people adapt to todays business environment and achieve success for themselves and tribal communities without compromising their cultural values.
Preparing the soil
Originally the idea was to provide a pool of students to do research in economic and business development [on reservations], Henderson says. Students would get experience and tribes would get free help.
As a final project for her masters degree in business administration, Henderson researched the potential for taking such a program national. She received encouragement and feedback from the UM administration and from contacts at numerous colleges and organizations around the country.
With help from a national advisory board, she successfully expanded the initial focus. AIBL now runs a national internship and career development program, organizes an annual leadership academy and career development institute, and publishes a newsletter and Web site to keep members connected and informed.
In addition, Henderson says, AIBL works with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on curricula that focus on tribal economic history and entrepreneurial projects for elementary and secondary school students.
While such internships may be invaluable to ones career goals, AIBL also supports entrepreneurial efforts to start culturally appropriate businesses in Indian communities.
All AIBL programs strive to help students learn to merge Indian value systems with mainstream business practices and find ways to return that knowledge to reservations and other Indian communities, Henderson says. But membership in AIBL student chapters is not limited to Indians, nor must students be business majors to participate, although the program has significantly increased the number of Indian business students at UM.
We now have four Native American students in our MBA program and 50 or so undergraduate majors, Gianchetta says of the business school.
About 20 students are members of the UM chapter this year, including environmental studies, premed, political science, psychology, human biology and computer science majors, as well as undergraduate and graduate business students.
Some of the chapters members will attend the National AIBL Leadership Academy and Career Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., in March, says chapter President Trina Finley. And some will participate in the tribal advertising and business plan competitions as well.
Reaping the harvest
Lamb, who is majoring in business management, credits AIBL with sparking his desire to become active on campus. He went from student AIBL member to the groups president, and he now is vice president of the Associated Students of The University of Montana.
As a member of student government, he says, his goal is to shed light on various diversity issues on campus an aim AIBL members share.
Were currently planning a cultural sensitivity/diversity training workshop for faculty during spring semester with the help of Ellen Swaney from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and other organizations on campus, Finley says. We hope this will not only benefit faculty but, in the long run, the campus learning environment and the student body as well.
Cultural sensitivity of Indians and non-Indians plays a big role in the success of Indians in business, Henderson says.
A key step to being successful in business is not feeling inadequate, she says. Most Indians in mainstream society do because they cannot articulate their own cultural values.
AIBL tries to help students articulate these values family and community, cooperation, self-control, patience, contentment rather than material success and see how these might fit into the business world without apology.
We want to expose students to new ideas and new ways of doing things, Henderson says. Indians need to think outside the familiar [and believe that] I can be anything and this is how.
No matter what a students major is, Henderson says, he or she may want his or her
own business someday. We want to empower tribal communities to take chances to
change their economic situation.