D. J. Eagle Bear Vanas, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, keynote speaker at the 8th annual Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce Business Expo in Denver (By Carol Berry)

Entrepreneurs, Meet Warriors

Carol Berry

When French explorers met D. J. Eagle Bear Vanas’ tribe, they asked, “Who are you?” The tribe replied, “Odawa,” which meant “to trade,” and that became the tribe’s name “for all time,” Vanas said.

Vanas, a noted motivational speaker, said, “I’m honoring my tribe by doing business.” He is an enrolled member of the Little River Band of Ottawa (Odawa) Indians, “the original successful business owners in the state of Michigan,” he said.

In the keynote speech April 11 to the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce’s 8th annual Business Expo in Denver, he drew on Native culture and tradition to make some points about the work people do to fulfill “a need to be valued” and the way to do so successfully.

Native warriors were not what we customarily think of from depictions in film and in books, he said, contending they were “rooted in service” and were concerned with “who we could take care of.”

Among characteristics of warriors he described as applicable to business today were clarity of goals, commitment, courage and “a war cry,” that could in fact be a prayer, a mantra, a quotation, necklace or other means to basic reassurance.

Warriors of old were “clear what they were fighting for” and, similarly, business owners should “be clear in what we do” and “what we have to offer.” It’s important to pick and choose what is important and to have clarity in order to achieve power, he said.

Because people are limited by time and human energy, they must choose the “things that really matter” and know when to say “yes” and “no,” he said.

He said Native elders talked about the characteristics of water as a way of explaining commitment when they said that “water finds a way to flow” and will flow one way or another around or through obstacles to continue down its path.

Courage, another characteristic of warriors in combat, “didn’t mean they weren’t scared—of course they were scared, but they did it anyway.” Rather than following emotion, “you have to trust the process,” he said.

He described a poverty-stricken childhood that taught him it doesn’t matter what you have, “it matters what you do with what you have.” He described early successes selling lemonade and mowing lawns and, as an adolescent, learning to fly an airplane.

Vanas signed copies of his book The Tiny Warrior: A Path to Personal Discovery & Achievement.

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