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  • Writer's pictureTribes Team

To thrive, a business must pivot with care. Covid creates new opportunities for entrepreneurs

According to many of our tribal oral histories, a long time ago, our people were faced with immense challenges that almost destroyed all of them several times. In every instance, the cause of our destruction was that we had grown arrogant and out of balance with the natural world. Thus, the natural world punished our ancestors and they had to migrate, change their behavior, and enter into a stewardship covenant with the new world they were allowed to live in. It is very apparent that we have broken that covenant once again. We have all been warned and knew this was happening for a long time but we all went about our business as usual thinking that it wasn’t going to really happen and that science would save us. The past few months, nature has once again started punishing us for our arrogance and being completely out of balance with our precious earth.

100 and 200 years from now, future generations will be telling stories of us and how we survived and rebuilt after the Corona Virus and of how we emerged and entered into a new agreement with nature. I pray that the story they tell is one of great respect and victory for humanity and nature.

This past few months, I had the honor of advising Navajo Nation shopping centers, which operates 13 major neighborhood centers, of how to respond to the Corona virus and what the future may hold for the industry, especially on Navajo. It was a very proactive conversation and ignited some serious thinking about what will change as a result of what we are experiencing. The important best practice advice for you property owners and entrepreneurs: offer a safe space for employees and customers, innovate new services such as having a greeter disinfect a grocery cart, constantly cleaning cash registers and carefully handling items are critical, offering masks and face coverage to employees, along with financial support and offering your unused parking space to hospitals and community support efforts are important, using talents such as online web design and

marketing skills sets to support business information to entrepreneurs who are seriously struggling, reducing rent to those that have had to close and lay off their employees for now, and being a leader in rethinking what the future holds post the virus.

As a socially responsible entrepreneur, former head of commerce for our Navajo Nation, and former president of the Navajo Shopping Centers, I read several business publications and felt compelled to advise our Nation on what we can do to ensure that we are the leaders in building a new responsible future. Since then, I have contemplated further and consume any good research or thoughts coming out in economic literature. Here is what I would offer as a vision and inspiration of what can be for our people as a result of this experience:

First, we have to acknowledge reality. Many are still in denial that some how things are going to just go back to normal in 3 or 18 months. This is not realistic at all. Several things are going to happen:

The people in our communities, tribal nations, states, and Nations will never ever want this to happen again, nothing even close ever again. Thus, many new industries and sectors will be prioritized locally, not in India or China, all requiring local companies to use local labor at good wages. Some of the industries that we can start building right away include disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, cleaning of air, face masks of all types, toilet paper, businesses that disinfect stores and places of people gathering. This will also include higher tech machines such as ventilators and virus test kits.

The health industry will be critical and will grow and be robust as long as the memory of what we are going through is held as a benchmark of never to repeat. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, caretakers, community health testers, all are going to be massive. Grocery, transport, and food delivery will now also be viewed as a most honorable commerce. Economies will rethink the proper importance for such professions. People are going to get used to being at home, being at a safe distant from others, in small protected settings, being very clean. This virus outbreak is not something that is going to end on April 1 or 13th or July. If a vaccine is hasn’t been created or perfected in a year, society will operate very differently once people go back to work and other pursuits. Worship service, even our tribal ceremonies will have to be conducted carefully, with much smaller groups. (As a real example, Im currently advising my family member who is a medicine-man to not conduct any ceremonies in person and to figure out how to do it over the phone.) Schools and colleges will operate very differently. Gyms will be different with a new emphasis on working out at home and in nature. Thus new physique where models are not overbuilt and more naturally lean will become the ideal. Much of our commerce will change due to customer and societal preference built over the next year. Restaurants and bars will have to operate differently with many offering smaller and wider eating areas and lots of focus on takeout and cleanliness. Movie theaters and entertainment will have to change. All areas where large gatherings happen, at concerts, malls, casinos, and sporting events will have to change. For the first couple of years, folks will be very wary to even attend such activities and places. Obviously, the travel industry will be heavily impacted. Who in their right mind is going to even travel overseas on a plane or a cruise ship soon? These industries will have to completely change and millions of jobs will be lost. Much more will be built locally. There is real possibility that most components for phones, electronics, and automobiles will be created within our Nation. The cost will no longer be the biggest factor compared to national health and security.

I also have thoughts based on what is going on in places that have already experienced the virus several weeks before us.

There are some good practical efforts by small to large companies all over the world that we can look to for inspiration. Instead of just letting furloughed employees become idle, many companies closed and with strong health controls, lent their employees to critical industries such as increasing the stock at grocery stores, creating new food items for online shopping centers, making ventilators and masks, or working to create disinfectants. Several distilleries are making disinfectants in America. This should give us ideas: what if many of our idle staff could create new ways of study and teaching, new ways to support families and elders, new ways to provide care at home, new forms of grocery delivery and transportation in our rural settings, new ways to create commerce remotely working from home via online platforms, smaller and more controlled tourism and lodging, healthier foods for all, community and home gardening extravagance, and so forth. This sort of transition requires serious intent and positive outlook. In the face of complete wipeout of certain industries, we will have no choice but to learn to be flexible. Even those with strong careers who are currently assured of their jobs and pay will eventually have to change as the system is completely changing and reality will set in at some point. The systems of payment and handing of cash will have to change. Things like gas stations and handing of gas pumps will change. The amount of touching that happens will be replaced with technology. Thus, there is so much opportunity for our tribal peoples to be at the forefront.

Most of us and our families will get through this fine, especially health wise. We should focus and embrace the change. Start the conversations if you are a family leader, an entrepreneur, a preacher, a medicine man, a teacher. We have to accept that this happened and is happening and start making decisions for a different and better future. We all have the vision and experience, the stories from our ancestors, to build a future that will withstand all time.

With honor, respect for our ancestors and future generations, with love for you and all our relations, with utmost respect of our precious Mother Earth and Father sky, with gratitude to our Diyin,

Ahxehee (thank you)

Tony Skrelunas

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