63 minutes | Jan 19th 2017

Chris James | Reservation Economic Summit

Chris James is the President & CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED), a role he recently stepped into. He grew up in Cherokee, North Carolina in the heartland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Chris is busy preparing for the National Reservation Economic Summit (RES) that is quickly approaching in March. But he carved out time to share stopped by to share his story with NextGen Native. Chris’ story is one that rings familiar to me. It’s not only because our professional paths are similar, or that we’ve known each other personally and professionally. It rings familiar because it’s a story of personal and professional growth, that is based in a service to community. It’s the story of many NextGen Natives. We each face the challenge of how do we serve our community, even when that means moving away from home, growing and evolving into new roles, or finding new ways to live that purpose. Listening to Chris’ story, I reminded myself that much of the growth we experience comes in two ways. First, we often discount our own experience. When Chris worked for his tribe at the Sequoyah Fund, someone shared a job opportunity with him for a position in DC. He thought he’d never get the chance to actually work in DC. But he got the job and found himself adjusting to life in a new city. He doubted himself even when others encouraged him to take a chance. So often others see the potential in ourselves that we cannot see. Second, if you look at Chris’ story, eight years ago he worked for his tribe, and now leads a national tribal organization. In between he worked for the Department of Treasury and the Small Business Administration in senior positions. It may seem a steep trajectory, and one that cannot be duplicated. But if you dig into what Chris shares, you learn that each step along the way was simply one step beyond his previous experience. Each step leveraged his career to the point it is today, but nothing was a huge risk for him, it was a logical step. After thinking about our conversation, I wondered how many people in Indian Country are standing at a similar leverage point. By taking one step, then another, then another, where will each of us end up? It’s exciting and daunting. It’s exciting to think about all that can be accomplished. It’s daunting because it forces us to realize that it can be accomplished. I am forming an opinion that the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things we can reach if we try, but it’s scary to think about achieving that goal. The things that make us most uncomfortable are often the things we should pursue with the most passion. I’m excited to see what Chris will accomplish in his new role. I’m excited where his next small, yet leveraged, step, will take Indian Country. Where will your next step take your community?
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