(NV) Chamber raises awareness of American Indian firms
Law and Labor
Chamber raises awareness of American Indian firms
By Alana <mailto:alana.roberts@...> Roberts / Staff Writer
Debra Sillik, president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of
Nevada, is shown in her office.
Photo by R. Marsh Starks
With all of the talk by Las Vegas Valley business leaders about the
importance of supplier and workplace diversity, some members of the American
Indian population are saying the business community should pay more
attention to them.
"Native Americans are one of the least served of all ethnic groups," Debra
Sillik, president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Nevada,
said. "I believe because they're smaller, and I also believe they're very
private people. They're not going to go out and ask for help. What I'm
seeing is a lot of them are out of their element. They've come to this big
city and they don't have the spiritual/cultural connection."
Sillik works as a volunteer for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of
Nevada, and has been working for about seven months to put together a board
of directors and to plan events for the group.
The American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Nevada is a group that first
began operating eight years ago, she said. The group, which came under her
leadership about seven months ago, didn't meet consistently and had more of
a social function. Sillik said the group will now focus on actively working
to provide networking and other opportunities for American Indian business
The group's first monthly luncheon under Sillik's leadership is set for
September. She said membership is open to anyone who wants to help Native
Americans in such areas as employment, self-employment and education.
Sillik said the number of American Indian business openings in Nevada is
growing along with the growth of that population here. According to 2003
U.S. Census Bureau statistics there are 9,556 American Indian and Alaska
Native people in Clark County. American Indian and Alaska Native-owned
businesses in Nevada grew by 56 percent between 1997 and 2002 from 1,231 in
1997 to 1,915 in 2002, according to the Census Bureau.
She said the group will have more of a holistic approach to providing
opportunities to American Indians such as employment opportunities and
educational opportunities. In addition to the monthly meetings, Sillik said
the group will offer educational workshops.The group, with the help of
Citibank, will host workshops this fall and winter on first-time home buying
in both Reno and Las Vegas.
Sillik said she also hopes to target American Indian youth by providing them
with employment and scholarship opportunities.
"I know they have a high dropout rate," she said. "We're hoping to partner
native youth with corporations so they'll get a taste of corporate life."
Sillik said the Las Vegas Valley's business community has been receptive to
the group's mission. She said the group now has about 50 members and a board
made up of representatives from such companies as MGM Mirage, Boyd Gaming
Corp., Citibank, the Nevada Minority Business Council, McCarran
International Airport and Harrah's Entertainment.
"The corporations have been very open to working with us, as have the
casinos," Sillik said. "The response to the American Indian Chamber has been
with open arms, which was surprising."
She said local corporations have assisted in many ways, such as helping her
to network in the business community, by inviting her to events and by
sponsoring luncheons and a planned awards banquet set for November. She said
the Golden Eagle Feather Award banquet will honor Nevadans who have worked
to help American Indians.
Sillik said many of the American Indian business leaders in her group are
artisans, but many work in a variety of industries.
One member, Alonso Magallanes, is an owner of Hang on Time Signs, a local
company that designs logos for T-shirts, banners and posters. He said he has
worked in the valley on his own as a logo and sign designer for about 12
years. About two months ago he merged with Hang on Time Signs. Magallanes
said he is optimistic that the group will help him acquire more business
"I think it'll put me out there where these other businesses are, where I'll
have some exposure," Magallanes said. "That's what I'm looking for, trying
to get into the big bucks. I believe the chamber will help me do that."
Dianne Fontes, president of the Nevada Minority Business Council, said she
thinks the group is off to a good start. The group is renting space through
the council's incubator program, which helps small businesses get started.
"I feel it's going to go somewhere because she (Sillik) put together the
right ingredients," Fontes said. "She put together a good board of directors
and she's putting together some programs like a business. That's the
difference to me, that's why it's going to work this time."
Irene Bustamante, director of national diversity relations for MGM Mirage,
said the company has an employee who serves on the American Indian Chamber
of Commerce's board of directors and it also has been active in helping
Sillik to network in the business community.
"Our commitment to them is to help them create business opportunities for
the Native American population," Bustamante said. "We see it as our
corporate responsibility to assist chambers. Most of them are
volunteer-based and so we do our part to outreach to them as well. That will
be part of our serving on the board. It's (not just) to give a monetary
contribution, but to be a responsible corporate citizen."
Alana Roberts covers courts and labor relations for In Business Las Vegas
and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached by e-mail
at alanar@... or at (702) 259-4059.
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