I am often asked where the inspiration for People of Earth Matter (POEM) came from, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment or the exact source.
Perhaps it began during my childhood. Like many Native Americans, my siblings and I grew up in poverty. Our single mother worked tirelessly to support us and provide for our most basic needs. I started working at a very young age, picking up odd jobs and helping out around the neighborhood. I quickly developed a sense for both business and the value of community relationships that have continued to serve me throughout my professional career.
It may have been my first appointment as CEO of a tribal enterprise. In an instant, my responsibilities went beyond securing the welfare of my own family, to securing that of many families and many generations on the Fort Berthold Reservation. The pride and humility I felt in assuming that position have likewise stayed with me over the years.
Those and experiences like them were all inspirations. The concrete idea for POEM came to me during a trade show. The booth for our tribal business was crowded in among countless others just like it, and we all handing out little trinkets embellished with our logos. Not one of them reflected our Native heritage or our tribal identity. I wondered why we weren’t setting our business apart with products of value and cultural significance that said something about who we were and where we came from. I reached out to tribal artisans to supply us with inventory, and learned they lacked the resources and the platform to produce in quantity and to make a living from their work. I realized then that I might be in a position to serve both the entrepreneurial interests of both my company and my community.
What originally began as a modest operation to uplift Native people is rapidly evolving into a far-reaching, inclusive enterprise, that proudly works with people and communities around the world.
I am immensely proud to launch our first initiative, Poem Studio: an online platform and artist community designed to help talented, emerging artists and artisans make a living selling their work. In addition to providing access to infrastructure, tools and exposure for the artists to showcase their work to a global audience, POEM donate a percentage of every sale to our distinguished charitable partners.
We at POEM strongly believe that all People of Earth Matter equally. In all of our endeavors, both current and forthcoming, we seek innovative opportunities and collaborations that benefit our world and the many diverse peoples who share it with us. As someone who comes from a culture that has been historically excluded from the dominant society and its commerce, I believe this mission is now more vital than ever.