November 22, 2022
Native Women Lead, So the Rest of Us May Learn: Jaime’s Journey
By Sara Torres Inda
NWBC’s Enterprising Women Blog Series highlights conversations with current and past Council Members, as well as other prominent women small business owners from across the country. Empowering women like those interviewed serve as a source of inspiration for both aspiring women entrepreneurs and established businessowners alike. These women’s business enterprise champions add incredible value to their local communities and ecosystems, their industry, and the nation’s economic growth.
This month, we sat down to chat with Council Member Jaime Gloshay— who has dedicated her career to advancing opportunity for Native women, through entrepreneurship and beyond. It was a joy to learn where Jaime’s journey has taken her, what may lie ahead, and how she sees opportunities to turn generational pain into economic promise. Much of the conversation was about the way women can uplift one another. As Jaime elevates the Council through her advocacy, we are proud to uplift a leader like Jaime and in doing so, continue to uplift these types of dialogue.
Q&A Leadership Profile: Jaime Gloshay, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Native Women Lead
Sara: Council Member Gloshay, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. To begin, I’d love to know more about your journey to becoming a champion for Native women’s economic equality and empowerment. What have your setbacks and successes looked like?
Jaime: My setbacks were earlier in life, coming from a family that was just trying to make ends meet. What contributed to my success was having an honest conversation with my mother after moving to the city from the reservation when I was 11. My mother was a single mom and the primary breadwinner for our family. After noticing that others in the city had more than we did, I remember she pulled me aside and said that if you want anything nice, you’re going to have to do it on your own. That hit me hard and contributed to my work ethic and dedication to getting an education regardless of anything. When I had my son at 21, my mom said, “You’re not going to quit school, we can watch your baby, you’re going to finish.” I had my son on January 3rd and went back to school on January 11th. My mom is a huge part of my story of success, giving me the strength to move through hard things and continuing to move forward despite the challenges and barriers. She really drew that will out of me.
Sara: What inspired you to co-found Native Women Lead?
Jaime: Ten years after I completed my bachelor’s degree, I was working in dead end jobs and didn’t have any upward mobility. This motivated me to go to graduate school. Like my mother, I was also the primary breadwinner for my family. After grad school, I landed at a community development financial institution (CDFI). It was kind of weird. I was charged with lending dollars to Native people, Native entrepreneurs, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never been in this position, let’s get some businesses funded.” I also saw that they too were experiencing their own setbacks and successes in life, as they navigated not only starting and growing a business but taking care of their families and communities. It was fascinating getting to serve women who looked like me and were in the same economic position as me.
It was also through this work that I met one of my really good friends, Vanessa Roanhorse, and we began sharing our experiences. We connected with other women who were interested in self-determining their pathway toward economic freedom and safety. We were all entrepreneurs or supporting entrepreneurs and were asking ourselves, “What makes us different?” It was being interconnected with our culture and our community, and this fact drove forward the people and organizations we wanted to support. And that’s how Native Women Lead (NWL) was founded.
Sara: How has your experience working as a lender with a CDFI influenced your perspective on increasing access to capital for Native women? Why is preventing predatory lending practices and closing the wealth gap important, especially for Native women?
Jaime: I live here in New Mexico and recently state legislation was passed that has really aimed at preventing predatory lending from doing the harm it is doing, especially in Indigenous communities. Predatory lending schemes keep people in debt. These borrowers pay a heavy price for borrowing money, which keeps people trapped in cycles of poverty. Lawmakers in New Mexico have recently put a cap on predatory lending through this legislation. Before the legislation, predatory lenders were charging up to 300% interest, and now the rate is capped at 30%, which is still pretty high.
I also witnessed my grandmother be a victim of predatory lending. I didn’t realize that was what was happening, but oftentimes it was her only option to make ends meet, to stretch her dollar to ensure that her family was fed. She lived on the reservation. We were in the city. But growing up I remember my grandmother having to go to the payday lender. Looking at the paperwork, my grandmother had to pay an extra $300 to have a $600 advance, it was so crazy. This clearly became habitual; it was a safety net for her. When legislation was passed, it was found that 64% of predatory lenders are based around tribal lands. They are placed there intentionally, and it’s messed up that predatory lenders prey on a community that has been economically excluded [from financial development opportunities] for over 500 years and that continues to be excluded. It’s just terrible and it’s heartbreaking, and I think that’s why access to alternative sources of capital, equitable interest rates and other ways to structure capital are so critical and necessary—to meet people where they’re at.
Sara: You’ve often described Indigenous people as America’s first entrepreneurs. What makes Indigenous entrepreneurship and the community networks that foster it unique? What lessons can the rest of us learn from Indigenous entrepreneurs?
Jaime: Indigenous people have always been incredibly entrepreneurial. I think about prior to the industrial revolution and colonization, there were communities and cultures that were fostering trade and bartering for thousands of years. I also think about how people moved resources over thousands of miles, cultures, languages, geographic regions, and seasons in an ever-changing environment, without access to modern technology. I also think that these communities and cultures had thriving ecosystems and ways to exchange goods and services.
I think about how people used to live by the seasons and in relation to the natural environment and resources that were available around them. Indigenous people innately have this within them, something woven in our DNA, about adaptation, survival, and living in and with the environment that is culturally aligned with our values and how we see our relationship with the planet and all living things. There’s already this values alignment to how the impact of this business affects not only the planet but also people. One of the lessons that can be learned from Indigenous entrepreneurs is that there’s an opportunity to do business in a very different way— a way that is not extractive or exploitative of people and the planet, and that does respond to the rapidly changing environment. I think right now we’re experiencing a lot of social change and environmental change, and Indigenous people can also respond to those things as well and demonstrate how to adapt in a positive manner.
Sara: Thank you for enriching my knowledge on this topic. If you have any articles or books that you would like to recommend, I would like to learn more about the history of Indigenous entrepreneurship.
Jaime: There’s this cool book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called Braiding Sweetgrass, and it’s about Indigenous wisdom and plants and how the plants show how to coexist and thrive together collectively. I think she makes a really great translation of the observation of plant life and how Indigenous people understand how to live with the natural environment and how this coexistence is actually modeled after the natural world, in our values. She talks about how this can be found even in governance, when it expands and contracts based on communal needs. Carol Ann Hilton also recently wrote a book called Indigenomics about how Indigenous world views are interconnected to economics and how we can view economics through that lens.
Sara: If Indigenous people are America’s oldest entrepreneurs, how do we support some of America’s newest entrepreneurs: women?
Jaime: We have to radically support them with really bold actions and funding. I often pose this question, “How do you undo 500 years of economic exclusion? How do you support people to self-determine their pathway towards economic mobility and freedom, especially if not only they, but their ancestors, have faced challenges historically?” When I think of the “5 Cs of Credit” and having a good credit score and making your payments on time, it’s like a game in a way. But somehow your ability to play this game is used to determine your character, at least when it comes to accessing capital. In my grandma’s case, she probably had a horrible credit score, and she probably wasn’t seen as worthy of risk or investment or accessing capital. Maybe that’s why she went to that predatory lender and was not able to increase her credit score.
These frameworks that exist are pretty antiquated. They don’t serve all people and fail to account for the historical exclusion and challenges and barriers that people of color, women of color, and women also face. Some of these groups have never had access to intergenerational wealth and were prevented from building assets due to practices like redlining. It’s going to take having to catapult people over these challenges and creating new pathways to capital so that they can build their dreams. In addition to the lack of generational wealth, in Indigenous communities, we can’t leverage assets like houses and buildings because banks can’t seize assets in Sovereign Nations. Another barrier is that, as a former lender, I’ve used market conditions to determine whether the businesses would survive and in Indigenous communities, market conditions are kind of unknown. There are a lot of informal economies operating in these communities.
We need to be changing the frameworks and problem-solve from the viewpoint of the experiences and challenges of others rather than applying general criteria or underwriting method that is supposed to encompass all people. I don’t think that’s fair or inclusive at all. To summarize, we need new frameworks, to work towards changing underwriting criteria, to understand the inequalities that the current systems are built upon and better support people who have had generational assets stolen from their ancestors. Being honest and truthful about this history needs to be considered if we’re to ensure economic justice for everyone.
Sara: I have heard you describe the path to entrepreneurship as a “lonely journey” for Native women. How do we help nurture these women-owned businesses, and what does meaningful support and connection look like to you?
Jaime: Representation matters. I recently heard a woman say, “children can’t be what they can’t see.” I think this is especially true for people who have been marginalized, erased, or excluded. NWL puts Indigenous women on the platform and elevates them, working to close this internal belief gap and create a pathway for what is possible. When other women can see women who look like them, who have that shared lived experience, ancestral experience, that history, that cultural understanding, that worldview, it makes you feel a lot less lonely. You say to yourself, “If she can do it, I can do it. She looks like me. I am her. We are her.” Someone told me during our recent retreat, “I’ve never been in a place where I can feel big and celebrated for who I am as an Indigenous woman.” And it’s so cool to hear this because we often hear the flipside. Thinking about the loneliness, people feel small, or are made to feel small, invisible, not important. I think it’s important to build a space where they feel reflected, can see each other in leadership, share lived experiences, and feel seen, loved, and cared for. We also want to make sure our content is culturally relative. We try to make a place where, when we’re talking about capital, resources, and technical assistance, people can still honor their values and culture while pursuing entrepreneurship.
In our work, we are trying to build a safe and brave space and are taking a trauma-informed approach, because we understand that these communities have experienced violence, harm, and exclusion. Everyone comes in with their own trauma, especially women. We want to create spaces that don’t replicate that harm but allow them to hold that experience, while creating a space where people can care for one another and provide validation. Those are our top three things: representation matters, culturally relative content, and safe and brave spaces.
Sara: Everyone’s journey to entrepreneurship is obviously different. What impact do you believe creating culturally competent support and addressing historical trauma might have on making this journey easier, both for Native women and women as a whole?
Jaime: This might sound funny, but healing is possible if we say that your culture, your worldview, your personhood, your business, your dreams matter. I think that’s a way to support someone’s journey, especially if we’re always in survival mode or are feeling lonely. And it’s not just individual trauma either. What we experienced in the world, with COVID happening, we all witnessed collective trauma. This is something that a lot of Indigenous people have had for a long time, and it’s experienced and coped with in a variety of ways. What is happening now in many of our communities is that there is a high violence rate and other negative things, with women at the center of it. According to the Department of Justice, 4 out of 5 Native women will experience violence in our lifetime. Safety is a real issue, and it makes you wonder, “how do we hold all of it?”
By building this safe space, making people feel centered and uplifted, we want to create this safety for all women, especially in the context of patriarchal systems and systems that have been shaped by white supremacy. I think there’s healing and justice in trying to do something different that centers women as a whole. There’s a necessary rebalance through rematriation, which is near and dear to my family, my community, and our legacies. Our relationships are focused on our connection to mother earth, and we are seeing women as the key decision makers because women can have children, care for our children and elders, serve as breadwinners. In this framework women are seen as leaders, which is very different to how things have stood historically. It’s another challenge to the current system. We want to consider how women can exist in a greater space where they are honored and kept safe so that we can thrive and continue to look after the next generation as well as those of the past.
There’s also been a huge shift when it comes to the aging population. Women, and women of color, have really responded as we’ve seen during the pandemic, as the critical care takers. As women, we are natural creators, we can birth new ideas and innovation. The richness of who we are isn’t celebrated enough. When we are holding space for our past experiences, the traumatic (even the trauma we haven’t acknowledged), it is only by unpacking all of it that we truly see the damage that has been done.
Sara: Something I’ve noticed about you is that you consistently drop these energizing turns of phrase and concepts like they are no big deal. I was wondering if you could talk me through a few:
- Matriarch mobilizing/Rematriation
- Making the invisible visible
- Creating inclusive spaces, both figuratively and literally
Jaime: They’re a very big deal, that’s why I always drop them. When I think of “matriarch mobilizing,” it’s a woman in leadership who’s heard and loved and honored and empowered to make decisions. It’s trying to do things in a very different way that is not harmful again to people or the planet and is really looking with the visionary lens several generations ahead while continuing to ensure that all people are cared for. I also think about all the women I’ve met in my life who’ve made something from nothing, despite all the trauma and challenges, and who still continue to motivate, mobilize, and move things forward. I really feel like this change that’s happening in our communities is happening in other communities too. Women are closing gaps not only for themselves, but for others, when placed in these leadership positions.
When it comes to making the invisible visible, I did a lot of work on the Census in 2010/2020 and I learned how impactful it is when people are left out, what a damaging impact it can have on a community’s economic stability and vitality. A lot of my work was making sure people are counted. Coming from a population that makes up less than 3% of the population, “making the invisible visible” for me means making sure people are counted and their voices are heard and included. If you can start by making opportunities for those who are most invisible, you can then open up space for inclusion and make this impact for all communities. It’s weird, I struggle with visibility sometimes, since invisibility has always been sort of a superpower to me. Work has pushed me to be visible because it opens up a pathway for other women, especially my daughters, to be seen and visible. That goes into this next part.
“Creating inclusive spaces” to me means that all voices are welcome to the table, and tables are expanded, or new tables are built when needed. It’s so critical to understand everyone’s lived experiences because you’re solving problems for more than just one people. You can only make change by honoring people’s inherent humanity and power.
Sara: Native women have made some incredible strides recently, from Sharice Davids and Yvette Herrell in Congress to Deb Haaland in the Department of the Interior. What does seeing Native women lead mean to you, especially given the unique relationship Native women have with institutions like the federal government? Where do they go from here?
Jaime: It was pretty cool. We’re based in New Mexico, and I had known Deb and her leadership for quite some time before she decided to run for Congress. She’s just one of us. She’s an auntie, sister, friend, leader, inserting her voice into places to advocate for her community and the environment. To see her rise and be centered and seen and lifted, and seeing people across the state, city, and nation say “yes, she’s going to be a congresswoman” was incredibly powerful. Seeing Sharice Davids at the same time, that was her-storic. How many years did it take for this to happen, for two Indigenous women to be in Congress?
It kind of blows your mind, and you kind of backtrack and say, “we’re the first people of this land, and yet we’re not in positions of leadership at that level. Why aren’t we making decisions about our environment? Why aren’t we a part of that conversation?” That was huge to me. I remember telling my daughter, crying joyfully and in disbelief, “there’s two Native women in Congress.” And being young at the time, my daughters just responded, “yeah, that’s great.” I spent like 40 years of my life never knowing that was possible. Shoot, I want to run for Congress, but yes, I would totally support other women in running for Congress. That’s rematriation to me, women holding down these positions of leadership because they must.
To your second question, I’ll just share that we are sovereign citizens. The history between tribal nations and the U.S. Government has been rooted in theft and violence, even before the United States became the country it is today. It’s important to name that truth if we want to repair that damage. Seeing Deb move from Congress to the Department of the Interior and seeing her make these huge decisions about land and resources, it’s pivotal. It’s a hard position to be in. Your constituents expand beyond just your community and the critical conversations she’s having, it’s a big deal. I know there’s a lot of green building happening and infrastructure building, and a lot of it happens in Indigenous communities. There’s also a history of extractive land use as well. We had to mine for natural things like steel and infrastructure, and you know, even uranium was mined on the Navajo Nation. It’s created a lot of environmental damage and human harm. So, I feel a little bit better that it’s Deb in this leadership position making these decisions, because I know she’s holding these things too.
Sara: It’s Native American Heritage Month. What do you believe are the best ways to celebrate, commemorate, and honor the occasion?
Jaime: As an organization that supports Native women entrepreneurs, the best way to celebrate is to buy from Native businesses and work to understand the real history of what it means to live in this country today, honor the truth of what is there, and find ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. To make the invisible visible.
Sara: Are there any resources where people can go to learn the truth and honor the truth?
Jaime: There’s a cool organization, IllumiNative, started by Crystal Echohawk. It is focused on changing the narrative and increasing visibility. Thinking about systemic change and challenging narratives and stereotypes is critical because it’s how you change attitudes and behavior.
There’s also Indian Collective—we all started around the same time. They both have been phenomenal in doing a lot of work to speak up for Indigenous people.
I really appreciate the work Edgar Villanueva has done with decolonizing wealth and talking about wealth and philanthropy and our relationship with money, especially when I think about access to capital and some of the not only the systemic barriers, but also internal barriers that we experience in accessing capital. It connects to what I talked about earlier around the systems and the impact predatory lending has on our communities. I think there’s emerging research around how the trauma of communities, individual and collective trauma, actually affects financial behaviors. It’s another challenge to communities who are trying to access capital and in feeling deserving and worthy, which furthers the whole conversation on decolonizing wealth.
The National Indian Women’s Research Center does lots of work around missing and murdered Indigenous women. This issue is really near and dear to my family. The violence against Black and Brown folks is real. Creating systems of safety and economic mobility is an important way we can create safety for all people. There’s a real issue with Indigenous women and girls and their experience of violence. It all speaks to the relationship between safety and economic mobility. The reason why I champion entrepreneurship is because it’s a way for women to close pay gaps by determining their own wages. There’s something there when it comes to highlighting entrepreneurship as a pathway to pay equity, which is a pathway to economic empowerment and financial safety that in turn promotes actual safety.
Sara: A few questions, just for fun:
- What is your “happy place?”
Jaime: Being on mountains. It’s the work that’s required to get to the top, the endorphins of pushing my body and the connecting of my body with the land, it all gives me a lot of peace. The fresh air after being behind a computer for so long, it’s nice to be out in the world, to feel healthy and feel gratitude to have movement and be mobile. I also like seeing my children laugh and smile, they are a lot of joy to witness. Even as I struggle as a mom with children turning into young adults.
- I read that you were born in a town called Gallup. What gets you up, moving and motivated?
Jaime: I was born in Gallup, New Mexico, and it’s funny because my last name is “Gloshay” which means to trot or gallup. My children, I have to get them to school, and they motivate me to do the best that I can for myself. I consider the pathways I create for them, so they don’t have to live in survival or scarcity mode. I really want to break those cycles to show them that it’s possible like my mom did for me.
- What’s your favorite movie?
Jaime: I’m such an 80’s kid, so it’s Pretty in Pink with Molly Ringwald. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but it was such an impactful thing to see as a little girl. Her story too was really interesting, coming from a broken family, and her dealing with poverty, shame, her sense of worth.
Sara: Finally, they say empowered women empower women. How do you strive to empower women entrepreneurs and why is this empowerment important?
Jaime: We often have to create these spaces for ourselves, for one another. Women are half the planet, and we should be in these decision-making places, and ensuring all women rise up and have the opportunity to thrive. It’s creating spaces where we can thrive, grow together, and avoid creating harm along the way, across race, class, status. I think women are the natural caretakers and we empower one another by caring for one another and making sure we’re holding our communities accountable for any harm. There’s still a connection between power and safety that I’m noodling on, but I really love that women are celebrating one another and honoring each other as the powerful, beautiful beings that we are.
To learn more about Jaime, be sure to check out her bio.
NWBC’s Business Profiles Blog Series highlights current and former Council Members, prominent women small business owners across the country, and women’s business enterprise thought leaders who have successfully built thriving businesses, launched promising startups, or have contributed their time and expertise to helping fortify local ecosystems by actively advocating for equitable access to financing, entrepreneurial resources, and contracting opportunities for more U.S. women entrepreneurs.