By Tribal has officially entered its third year this February 2020 and while I’m still quite a long way from what I want to accomplish with this startup, I’ve learned quite a bit in my trials and tribulations. I learned about the various ins and outs of the Native American arts and crafts scene, how to present to a council of Tribal elders and what honorifics to use, how to pronounce “Acoma” properly and that I will always prefer “meet space” to online interactions. I also learned most importantly of all to put my money where my mouth is for this cause.
The most vital thing that anyone can do for Native-owned businesses and Native American artisans is to spend money on them. There are some people who when presented with the issues Natives face express a great amount of sympathy but do nothing else. This may sound crude but sentiments are not good enough when it comes to preserving the economic livelihoods of Native artisans, and their artistic traditions.
We live in an era where we’ve realized that outsourcing to overseas factories has to lead to not only degradation in the quality of our goods, but the hollowing out of entire sections of our economy. Native American artistic traditions were not spared this. To add insult to injury knock offs, “pretendians” and high-level criminal enterprises have ravaged the industry and their way of life. Certain traditions stand a chance of stagnating and dying off because the current generation doesn’t see a way to make a living carrying on their parents’ traditions.
Sentimentality is not very useful in the end, you can’t take it to the bank and you can’t feed yourself or your family on it. To this end, I implore everyone to do what makes sense and invest in the Native American community by actually buying their goods and that at a fair price. I’ve found that haggling to a certain extent is tolerated but I have also seen aggressive hagglers that insult the artists/artisans in questions. I’ve also been on the receiving end of such behavior and found it to be an exceedingly unpleasant experience. We should understand that you can’t get any more “Made in the USA” than this and the fact of the matter is that the various jewelry pieces, ceramics, pottery etcetera you will find are still underpriced for the craftsmanship and materials that go into creating them.
Right now in this nation, especially among the millennial generation, there is a longing to return to and emulate the artisan’s life. We want to be able to work out of our homes, create schedules around our family and needs, and have innate skills that we can take with us anywhere we want. I think it would be a shame to allow one of the only living traditions that embody these values to die out in the coming years.