Economic Sovereignty, Development, and Community among Indigenous Entrepreneurs: A Conversation with Courtney Lewis

In this episode, Ipshita talks with Dr Courtney Lewis about the ways in which entrepreneurship is conceived and practiced in the Native Nations. Drawing on her ethnographic work with Cherokee small business owners and a recent project with indigenous food entrepreneurs, Courtney discusses the challenges that indigenous entrepreneurs face as well as the ways in which their entrepreneurial labor intersects with ideas of community, economic development, and sovereignty. We also discuss the complexities inherent in working as an ethnographer and particularly, an anthropologist amongst native communities and what are some steps anthropologists can take to establish trust, transparency, and an ethical commitment.

Dr Courtney Lewis is currently an Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina – Columbia. A citizen of the Cherokee nation, Dr Lewis’ overall work is in economic development for Native Nations in the United States and, consequently, issues of sovereignty related to economic sustainability and stability. Her research areas include economic anthropology, Indigenous rights, economic justice, political economy, economic sovereignty, public anthropology, food and agricultural sovereignty, Native Nation economic development, American Indian studies, race and entrepreneurship, and economic colonialism. Dr Lewis is the author of ‘Sovereign Entrepreneurs: Cherokee Small-Business Owners and the Making of Economic Sovereignty’, published in 2019, which is based on her ethnographic work with indigenous small businesses. In Fall 2022, Dr Lewis is joining the Anthropology faculty at Duke University.