By: Tonya Plummer

Montana Native Growth Fund was recently honored to partner with local organizers of Cora Kay Productions and Brocade Stops Blackeagle to design and facilitate the Big Sky Indigenous Women’s Business Symposium, a companion of the Big Sky Indigenous Women’s Fashion Show, a sold-out event. The show included 11 of Montana’s Indigenous women designers, 90 models, and 35 vendors who traveled far and wide to show new spring fashion lines and sell their creations while networking, learning, and supporting each other.

Business development topics including business plan elements, a pitch workshop, growth and scaling up, legal business structures, marketing and communications, and financial management were taught by presenters from tribal communities and other community partners including the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Lab (W.E.L.L.)Women’s Business Center (WBC), Great Falls Development Authority, Accelerate Montana, and Sequoyah Fund.

Our primary goals were to empower the voice, encourage the growth, and elevate the potential of Native women in business. A clear tone of camaraderie and positivity was a key element of program design. In the same way, the creation of a quilt requires careful stitching of each piece of fabric, designers were encouraged that every time together we lift up a Native sister by cheering her on and supporting her work, we stitch more pieces together in a quilt of beauty that covers us all. When you support a strong Native woman, you support an entire community.

Participants received the gift of insight and experience in a special address from Montana Native Bethany Yellowtail, of Northern Cheyenne and Crow heritage. Bethany’s experience has given her a voice both fierce and yet gentle…proud and yet humble and she shared openly the unique perspective of a Native businesswoman, musing with the designers, “How can we do business in a way that integrates and emulates our values?” Embracing and encouraging the zeal in the room, she said throughout the event, “There is enough room in the sky for all the stars to shine”.

And all the stars were shining that night as the ballroom swelled to over 500 sharply dressed, regal and proud Native people who came to support the designers as they swept the runway. As each designer was introduced it was clear she was telling a story through her designs…a story to be worn and shared…a story that integrates and emulates Native values. It was more than a display of beauty and creativity, it was a night for Indigenous people to shine together.