By TRIBAL NEWS STAFF
Puyallup Tribal member Brandi Douglas is no stranger to hard work and what can feel like an isolating experience. But now, she hopes to use the tools she has gained to inspire others.
Douglas is a local small business owner, entrepreneur, paralegal and advocate for Native businesses. Since graduating from the University of Oklahoma with her Master of Legal Studies in Indigenous People’s Law this spring, Brandi fills her time with a multitude of projects, jobs and passions.
Alongside her brother, Miguel, Douglas runs American Indian Republic—a Native media company—and Bella and Belle, a creative design firm focused on app and website design and content creation. For her Puyallup Tribal community, she hopes to be contracted out as a legal advisor, helping her fellow Tribal members navigate complicated legal procedures.
On top of this—as if running two business and a job in the legal field isn’t enough for one person to handle—Douglas advocates for and hopes to advise other Natives who are interested in the entrepreneurial world.
“I really want to create an entrepreneurial arm within my Tribal community,” said Douglas. “People have dreams of having a business, but don’t think they fit in the box of a small business owner. But it’s unlimited what you can do. And I want to have the resources and support for those Tribal members to start on their own small business journey.”
Douglas hopes to use her experiences and skills she has gained over her years in the small business field to inspire other Natives to find the path that works for them. And often times, that path is a bumpy one.
Douglas’s first business, a health coaching business, lasted about two years. “First businesses go downhill pretty quickly, sometimes,” she said.
But that first bump didn’t stop her from finding her next adventure.
Douglas kept herself going through degrees at the University of Washington and the University of Oklahoma by finding and engaging with communities of other Native entrepreneurs. Douglas still regularly attends summits across Indian Country, including the Women’s Business Summit, and the inaugural Native Business Summit, hosted this past spring.
These events keep Douglas motivated. “As a Native entrepreneur, it was extremely helpful to try to immerse myself in those environments, because sometimes within your tribal community, you don’t get the support you’re looking for. Other entrepreneurs understand the struggle and where you’re coming from,” she said.
Douglas is always excited to bring the things she learns and sees back to her own tribal community. Two of her mentors, Carmen and Gary Davis—who many will remember as the Indian in the Cupboard—hosted the first Native Business Summit, and invited Douglas and her brother to speak on a marketing and customer acquisition panel.
“It’s really interesting to see the plethora of Native businesses out there,” Douglas remarked. From coffee companies, to manufacturers, office supplies retailers and more, Natives are well entrenched in every area of small business one could imagine.
This is part of Douglas’s main drive in the work she does. “My real focus is to have our leadership lean into the idea of eliciting Native small business owners,” she said. “When we fail to fill certain positions with experienced Natives, it looks like they don’t exist. But they’re out there.”
Being an entrepreneur is more than just a job to Douglas. “It’s embracing the concept of self-determination,” she said. “We’ve always been entrepreneurs as Native people, whether we’re fishing, hunting or trading, we’ve always had that within us. I think we just need to tap within us and hone that power.”
As Douglas continues to move into the role of an advisor for her fellow Natives, she recommends potential entrepreneurs find their communities and step out of their comfort zones.
“Just because you don’t have a title, like Councilperson, you can still go to events, network and create change,” she said.
“That’s why I branch out, because I want to be an example of what you are capable of doing as a member, as a citizen of a tribal community—you aren’t powerless. You have every opportunity to go out there and make change.”