Originally published Tuesday, January 21, 2020 at 09:00a.m.

TUBA CITY, Ariz. — For tourists and locals alike traveling in the Southwest, there’s a new, easy way to find local Native businesses using your mobile phone or computer — Rez Rising, a new app and website at https://rezrising.org/.

The app, now in the app store on iPhone, and on Android, already has more than 500 Native American small businesses listed from across the Southwest with everything from jewelers, silversmiths, local grocers and more allowing customers to know they are buying directly from a local business and buying Native, on and off the reservation. Native American small business owners can join Rez Rising and list their business on the app and website free of charge.

The goal is to keep millions of dollars of spending — and sales tax revenue — on the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands by connecting customers with Native-made goods and services.

Heather Fleming, executive director of Change Labs, a Native controlled non-profit seeking to foster the creation of Native small businesses, said the goal of the app is to expand local businesses reach outside of a constricted circle of the community.

Fleming said the lack of physical space on the reservation that is open to small businesses means community members who want or who have already started their own small business generally run them from their homes.

“When you think about running your business from your home on the reservation, starting a business is one thing, but growing a business is something else completely,” Fleming said. “A lot of the entrepreneurs in our network rely on their hyper local community to keep their business going, but if they really want to grow it, they need to get past their local community.”


Examples of local Native small businessess that can be found on the new app Rez Rising.(Photo courtesy of Change Labs)

How it works

The Rez Rising app is basically a digital yellow pages for Native American businesses across the Southwest. Users can search by location, keyword or business name and find everything from local food vendors, moccasin makers, contractors, mechanics and public relations firms.

The app makes it so small business owners are able to be found and are able to capture an expanded amount of people and tourists who are looking to buy directly from a Native business.

Because of a lack of broadband or wireless service, the app gives some Native American small businesses an online presence where they might not have had one and helps addresses the issue of some businesses not having a physical address that is recognized by some search engines.

“We saw it as a useful tool for the tourist community,” Fleming said. “I know that many of them crave authentic experiences. They want to support small businesses. But when they drive through Tuba, they see Denny’s or McDonalds. The rest of the businesses are there, but they are invisible. I think it’s easy for outsiders to just drive on by.”

The Rez Rising app accommodates informal business hours, mobile business locations, and helps customers understand what forms of payment businesses accept. Because there’s nothing worse than finding the perfect beaded leather belt only to find out that the seller does not accept credit cards.

“The Rez Rising app and website is a tool that makes it easier for customers, Native and non-Native, to connect with business owners,” Fleming said.

Fleming does caution that in comparison to some apps, the look can be informal — sometimes only the name of the business and a phone number is listed (and a relative may answer the phone) — but she said that is part of the experience of buying from a small business on the reservation.

“If people understand that’s kind of what the experience is, then, yeah, it makes it a truly authentic experience,” Fleming said.

Part of that informal experience is understanding that reservation businesses do not always operate in a strict 8-5 schedule.

Carlos Deal, who has some of the best sushi in northern Arizona, operates next to the Chevron in Tuba City. But he frequently runs out of food and needs to resupply. Others may have traveled out of town to the Kayenta Flea Market or other places like that, so their hours are not always consistent. Some may post that they are closed for the winter.

“That’s exactly what we want them to do,” Fleming said. “The app makes it so people can be aware that sometimes there’s a seasonal thing going on and they won’t be open, or with Carlos, maybe his daughter is having an emergency and he’s not going to be open that day.”

The advantage of the app is once it is downloaded on a phone, whether you are connected to the internet or not, the information is there (unless someone is actively changing it since it was last connected to the internet).


Examples of local Native small businessess that can be found on the new app Rez Rising.(Photo courtesy of Change Labs)

Buying local

According to a press release provided by Grand Canyon Trust, a 2012 study conducted by the Navajo Nation, estimated that $216 million in sales tax revenue is lost each year to border towns like Farmington, Gallup and Flagstaff.

“They say the town of Gallup doubles in size on the first Saturday of every month,” Fleming said. “Everyone treks to the Walmart to get their shopping done followed by a visit to Cracker Barrel or Applebee’s.”

But that leaves local grocers like Rocky Ridge Gas & Market, which is run by Germaine Simonson, who is Diné, left out.

“We want to change that, bringing needed visibility to small business owners on the reservation with Rez Rising,” Fleming said.

Local for the Navajo Nation is still a big area, which is why the Rez Rising app and website show local Native small businesses on and off the reservation. Because of the lack of opportunities on the reservation, many people have moved off the reservation to start their businesses. Those businesses are included on the app.

“We inherently empathize with what they are trying to do, so we expanded (the app) to the entire Southwest because there are a significant number of Native small businesses in Phoenix, Albuquerque and they need visibility, too,” Fleming said. “But we’re trying to limit it to the Southwest (for now).”

With 533 businesses already listed on the app, Fleming said that is just a fraction of what is out there.

“We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us to get more businesses on there and raising awareness in a place where internet is hard to come by. It’s challenging,” he said.

Change Labs business incubator is seeking applications for its 2020 cohort

The Change Labs business incubator is accepting applications for its 2020 cohort from now until Feb. 19. The business incubator will select 10 high-potential Native American entrepreneurs for a 12-month program designed to launch or accelerate small business startups. Applications must be submitted online at https://nativestartup.org/incubator by the Feb. 19 deadline.

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