Passion to Reflection to Success to Celebration..All in a Day’s Work….

Hello Friends! Are you as busy as me? I hope so!

How I love the work we do. As usual, Team ONABEN is engaged in a flurry of activity. Where to begin? Where else but with entrepreneurial development, which you know is a big deal in ONABEN’s world. We constantly advocate for the establishment and growth of Native-owned businesses, so we’re very excited that one of our own has taken the “plunge,” so to speak. ONABEN’s April Lemly recently opened her own flower business. Her flowers are beautiful and her arrangements are stunning! I am so proud of her and her accomplishment; what a testament to the work we do!


As if work could not get any better, it looks like the Authentically Cherokee Native Market will take place at the Asheville Art Museum! How befitting. There simply could not be a better place to showcase the talented artists ONABEN works with from the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Cherokee, North Carolina. If I’m not mistaken, I think the one and only French Broad Chocolate Lounge is right next door! Oh, my…be still my beating heart!

I’ve spent a good amount of time at home in recent weeks. There are times when that is the best place for all of us. The break in travel has given me the chance to look ahead at all of our projects, celebrate all that we did right in 2014, and determine what we can do better in 2015! The reflection has been enlightening, and — at times — emotional. I can honestly say that I have a true passion for the work we do and the people we serve.  Our team works hard to not just build relationships with our audience but to maintain and grow those relationships over time.

In one of the first workshops I conducted for ONABEN, I met Bryan and Denise Brown. Denise, a member of the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California, had a dream of opening a childcare center. In turn, Bryan had a dream of making her wish come true. Having years of experience in the field, Denise knew exactly how her business would be structured. I can honestly say I have never had two people work harder on a business plan. They paid complete attention and visited with me during every break. I loved their passion. Nothing would stand in their way.

Access to capital was problematic, as it is in many Native communities. However, Bryan and Denise had a plan. The two invested the dollars they could as often as they could. They painted and cleaned and remodeled. They struggled. However, they persevered through everything. Best of all, they succeeded. They encouraged me as much as I encouraged them. In the beginning, I provided a lot of marketing tips and I did a lot of cheerleading.  And, once in awhile, I did a lot of nail biting. LOL! I saw how much their shared dream meant to them and wanted more than anything for them to make it.  During that first entrepreneurial workshop, the Browns adopted my children and me, and in turn we adopted them. We call them our California family. To this day, we do our best to see one another anytime I find myself in the Oroville or Sacramento area. Recently, I received a private Facebook message from them. It was big news. It went a little something like this:

Hey girl,

Thought you would appreciate some news. The business is doing great! We were approached by Head Start to partner up with them. We were one of two sites chosen for Oroville and one of eight for the whole Butte County. They received a $450,000.00 grant from a 1.5 billion grant allocated for low income subsidies. We may expand sooner than planned. We almost doubled our billing from 2013-2014. Hope your life is bringing great things to you. ~ The Cali group !

In addition to being adopted, that trip provided much needed clarity to my son regarding my work. He and my daughter accompanied me to conduct one of the trainings in Oroville. As I concluded the training and passed out certificates of completion to my participants, they passed out hugs to me…some with long embraces and some with tearful expressions of thanks. A participant reached for my son, who thought he was going to get a handshake. But instead, my big ‘ole, 6’4” boy was pulled into an embrace. And the trainee said to him, “Thank you for sharing your mom with us. We needed her.” Even now, as I write this, the tears well up in my eyes. My son turned, looked at me, and said, “I know what you do now, Mom. I never knew how to explain it. But, now I understand. I’m proud of you.” It is not always easy to leave one’s children, even for work. But in that moment we both found peace.

ONABEN Pic 1 copy

My heart is warm. And, that’s why I love this work. Stay tuned, friends. There is so much more to come.

“Talk” Soon, V.

“Aspire to Inspire: Arts…Culture… Entrepreneurship” is the theme for Trading at the River 2015

Hello, Friends! What’s new with ONABEN? On Monday, Selena and I will travel to beautiful, Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Administration for Native American’s Grantee Meeting. We are always excited to network with our peers, many of whom are more like life-long friends than colleagues! And we are honored to have been asked to sit on two separate panels to share ONABEN’s ANA funded project. As you all know, I am always excited to share the stories of our work in North Carolina, North Dakota, and Hawaii.

Our staff continues to plan our annual event and Marketplace, Trading at the River. As you may recall, this year’s event will take place in my neck of the woods – Tulsa, OK! This year’s conference theme is, “Aspire to Inspire: Arts…Culture…Entrepreneurship.” We are so grateful to the Muscogee Creek Nation for hosting this year’s conference! They have been wonderful to work with and are so accommodating, and we hope that all of you can join us for this 1.5 day event! It is a great opportunity to expand your network, learn from leaders in the field of business development, become more familiar with cultural tourism and movements in Native arts initiatives, grow your capacity to effectively market your business endeavor, and even pick up a tip or two on video production!

Tony Johnson, Artist of the Year. 2015

Tony Johnson, Artist of the Year. 2015

Don’t forget that February 1st kicks off our early-bird registration, and we have some amazing rates! Our conference site is up, so check it out at Look for our conference agenda to be posted soon! And, the marketplace? Well, just let me say, we have some space for the marketplace – our partners have graciously allowed us to use the Riverwalk as the site of this year’s Native Marketplace! We will be able to accommodate more vendors than we have in the past, and we are working hard to find some entertainers to keep the Riverwalk stage hoppin’! I recently met a very talented singer in Nashville, turns out she is Choctaw…and, just happens to be in Oklahoma this week. Keep your fingers crossed that the lovely and talented Lainey Edwards will join our festivities and share her musical talents at the Marketplace on May 6th. I will keep you posted, as I am meeting with her tomorrow. Let’s hope that I am extra charming and persuasive!

But, seriously, Trading at the River is the place to be, on May 5 and 6, at the River Spirit Event Center and Riverwalk! A place to gather, exchange and grow, Trading at the River, Tulsa, OK-2015! For now, I will close. But, I will keep you abreast of our event and our travels to New Mexico!

“Talk” Soon!

Aloha, Friends! Team training in Moloka’i with OWEESTA.

Aloha, friends! This week the team and I provided a training in beautiful, Moloka’i, Hawaii. As I have often said, the people and the place are truly a wonderful experience. It is so very exciting to watch the entrepreneurs of this happy island grow their capacity as small business owners! We have made some life-long friends in this community, and for that I am so grateful.


One of the entrepreneurs: Kupu A’e Molokai

This quarter’s training provided guidance and instruction in financial literacy. The training was provided by one of OWEESTA’s finest, Krystal Langholz. She did a fantastic job! I hope this is just the first of many joint-trainings to come. Ms. Langholz is not just a colleague, but is a personal friend to ONABEN and to me. I was thrilled to introduce her to a place as warm and friendly as Moloka’i.

I spent a little time on the island working with the participants of the Entrepreneur Exchange Program that ONABEN is assisting our friends at the Mvskoke Loan Fund manage. The exchange program will bring together ten entrepreneurs from Moloka’i and Oklahoma to embark upon some peer coaching, business development training, job shadowing, and cultural enlightenment. This is a totally cool project that will bring Moloka’i to Oklahoma and Oklahoma to Moloka’i! All I can say is this week Moloka’i was in the house! And, wow, do they have some special events planned for their Oklahoma visitors!

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Kupu A’e Molokai

The exchange participants will come together in Moloka’i in April and then in Tulsa in May. While I am very excited to see my Oklahoma neighbors in Moloka’i, I am overjoyed to share Oklahoma with my Hawaiian friends! Best of all? In Oklahoma the groups will come together at Trading at the River! And, let me tell you the Hawaiian Entrepreneur Exchange participants are bringin’ it! From hula to art, from culture to clothing design, from hugs to aloha, you will find it all at the Riverwalk during the Native Marketplace on Wednesday, May 6, in Tulsa, OK!

I found my way to the North Shore on Oahu this trip. The drive was beautiful. Entrepreneurship abounds on the roads that lead to Punalu’u. There were so many food trucks and fruit stands. I was in heaven! Too tempted to pass another vendor by, we pulled into a shrimp stand and purchased a pound of steamed shrimp…. What? You know how I love supporting small business!

“Talk” soon, V.