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Nancy Gaynor and Geri Hewankorn: Rural Entrepreneurship

Geraldine Hewankorn and Nancy Gaynor are descendants of Eneas Paul Big Knife, Great Chief of the Kootenai Nation in Montana. Both grew up on the Flathead Reservation and Geraldine still resides there and works at a triballyowned resort. Nancy lives nearby on a familyowned ranch, and she has worked at helping rural people in the area develop small businesses. At a time when jobs are very hard to find, we both believe it's important for women to consider creating their own access to employment by creating their own jobs.

One of the things that Nancy has always been good at is asset mapping. Figuring out things that attract people to their area was easy with the beautiful scenery, natural environment, and a National Park. We’d love to share with those at the session how people can use what they already have, including their imaginations, to earn income. Part of the process is probably seeing your assets from the outside and realizing that outsiders would appreciate them. In many places, sharing cultural traditions and hospitality can bring in income.

During a conference on economic development people came from Ireland. The Irish told stories of how they started their recovery by licensing every fifth house to be a bed and breakfast. The extra income from each house (Average $6000 per year extra income) had started the recovery.

With that information in hand, Geraldine and Nancy went to an economic development meeting on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. They had heard of a bed and breakfast that was a great success out at Hayes. This was very isolated. It was funky, which is the only word to describe it. It was an old house with additions. The bed and breakfast was brightly painted with eclectic dŽcor. There were inspirational sayings on the steps and walls. The hallway was just boards, yet painted nicely. It was $40 per night per person. There were shared bedrooms in the addition. It was clean, and the beds were not commercial and had homemade quilts on them. . . we loved it.  In the morning after a great rest, we went to the kitchen. . . there was a nice pot of coffee, water for tea, a couple of loaves of banana bread and some grapes. Next to it was a can with a slit in it where you put your lodging payment. You could only pay with cash or check. The owners left early for work so you were on your own – It was an honor system.

Now, at the Gaynor Ranch where Nancy lives she was convinced that they needed to “add value” to the ranch. They had a space in the bottom of the house that they made into a guest suite. Again, it was not fancy, but with lots of paint, some furniture that they had picked up at garage sales, nice towels. People loved it. After a few years and turning people away, they started building cabins. We started them in January as we never had enough money and needed them to start paying for themselves right away.

People kept wanting to come because it was like stepping back in time. They loved the old west hospitality. They were often invited to share a meal with the family, have smores around a campfire, and dip a line in the river. Things like playing in the hay, playing with the dogs and feeding the horses. When a young girl is bored, Nancy will bring in a gentle saddle horse for her to wash and groom. Often times, the mothers join in. Then there is the river to jump in on the rope swing. Around the corner is an Otter slide. The kids take 5 gallon buckets of water up it and pour it down and then slide down into the river. At night they might get to sleep in a Tipi or have smores around the campfire. They have built a mechanical bull and have bales of hay with steer heads on them to learn how to rope. Guests can take a trail ride up Spencer Mountain and stop for lunch and hear Indian stories or Old West tales from our wranglers.

At the KwaTaqNuk resort. Geraldine makes it more interesting with a tour to the People’s Center, our tribal museum. Often times they send guests to the Salish Kootenai College to see the art department and buy things from the instructors. The guests often visit the amazing Veteran’s Memorial and peek into a Tribal Council meeting. We then head down to the National Bison Range and have a close up look at the buffalo, antelope, elk, deer and the many birds that call this their homeland. The ever-popular Powwows are great events that people from all over the world want to come and learn. They are so amazing and colorful. Our Indian people have great sense of humor and the stories of the past are a great source of entertainment.

Everyone has a dish that came from the ancestors. Geri and Nancy remember with fondness the Sisith that their mothers made which was made from venison. The bread was always awesome. It was made from corn or moss. We now call it fry bread and it is made from wheat flour.

What we are saying, it that in rural areas it takes just a little imagination to make what is popular today as a “Staycation” You could rent a room at almost anyone’s house, learn their traditions and then learn about the area. You can refresh your space with paint. No need for an expensive makeover – the right kind of paint can transfer a room from hohum into stylish in hours.

First off, what are Staycations? The product of financial troubles, they are those vacations where you cannot really travel far. Maybe you take a few day trips close to home or just enjoy your home city, maybe you just visit all your relatives, the bottom line is Staycations are not your normal vacations: you don’t plan much, you don’t really have a budget, you’re just looking for ways to relax and recharge without the actual expenses of a real holiday.

Yes, it’s true, no matter how long you live somewhere; there are certain places you’ve never been to. This is what you can treat your house guest to: a museum, a famous street, a church or unusual temple, a park to far from home to explore, a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try but never gotten around to. Make a plan to squeeze all of them in. From a bike ride, to fishing a local stream, to a rope swing into the river, to work in the garden or do some star gazing. You could have a field day and find all the wild flowers in the area and press them for keep sakes for your children and grandchildren. The sky is the limit for creativity.

Again, while Nancy was working on her master’s degree through RDLN, she helped many people get into business. She got a gift store, a Tipi making business, a furniture business and many Indian artists started. She will always remember that first winter when all of the businesses were on the verge of closing. She went through her contacts with RDLN back down to Davis California and was able to get them to let our artisans into their Farmer Market. It is just a matter of finding a product that people want to buy. Get an online presence by a free program such as site builder and publish your business online. That is how we found people in the Himalayas to buy Tipi’s. People from Germany and England to come to the ranch and the resort off the internet.

We know that our model could be used in any country. We know that what people are looking for are real experiences where they can learn something. We would love to go to another country and be able to stay in someone’s home and eat their traditional foods and see the sights that no one else knows about. We have so many places and things to show the people that come to Montana to see Geraldine and Nancy’s environments!

NANCY GAYNOR - Kalispell, MT
A descendent of Eneas Paul Bog Knife, Great Chief of the Kootenai Nation in Montana, Gaynor currently serves as the Vice President of K-M Ranch.  Her experience in entrepreneurship and asset mapping includes connecting Indian artisans with markets to sell their crafts and launching a revolving loan fund for business development on the Flathead Reservation.  An RDLN fellow, Gaynor completed her Masters with a field project in entrepreneurship on the Flathead reservation with Salish Kootenai College as her Sponsoring Organization. 

Hewankorn works on the Flathead Reservation at the KwaTaqNuk Resort and is a descendent of Eneas Paul Big Knife, Great Chief of the Kootenai Nation in Montana.  She is a Leader of RDLN. Her Field Project is to develop a town center as a focal point for tribal services and businesses, as well as a place for visitors to shop and to learn about the tribe with the Sponsoring Organization the Ktunaxa Community Development Corporation.