Catch Up with the Dreams of the Original DreamCatchers

By Laura Aviles, Staff Writer

From April 4th to 10th, Thunderbird hosted 15 Native American women for the initiative known as Project DreamCatcher. This project was launched as a partnership between the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and Thunderbird for Good to empower Native American women entrepreneurs from the Hualapai, Tohono O’odham, San Carlos Apache, and White Mountain Apache tribes. Project DreamCatcher supports Native American women entrepreneurs in communities near the mining operations of Freeport-McMoRan. It complements an existing program developed between Thunderbird and Freeport,, an online business plan creator designed for women entrepreneurs. The week was made up of multiple sessions focusing on topics like strategy, marketing, pricing, 30 second commercials, and other entrepreneurial related topics. It also boasted workshops, networking events, advising, and motivational sessions. Furthermore, the group of women had the opportunity to have a session with Dr. Morrison, CEO and Director General at Thunderbird, and the Ambassador Barbara Barrett.

Group of DreamCatchers with the Ambassador Barbara Barrett.
Group of DreamCatchers with the Ambassador Barbara Barrett.

The first cohort of 17 women attended a week of Thunderbird faculty-led training on our campus in October 2015. The second class of 15 women graduated from the program this past Monday. In total, 32 women have graduated from Project DreamCatcher to date.

As Katherine Zuga, Program Director for DreamCatcher (and a Tbird alumna), stated:

“Project DreamCatcher graduates have mentioned the connections with other Native American women entrepreneurs, practical training, and introductions to mentors as benefits of the program. According to April Tinhorn, a Project DreamCatcher alumna from the first cohort, her greatest takeaway was meeting her mentor, Jenny Poon. Jenny Poon is the Co-Founder of the Phoenix-based co-working space, Co+Hoots, and recently was recognized as the 2016 Phoenix Business Journal Businessperson of the Year. As a result of this mentorship/partnership, April was offered free working space at Co+Hoots, and she and Jenny continue to collaborate on other projects.”

Inspired by this story, the following is an interview with two of the amazing women who attended the last program:

Nancy Garcia; Tribe: Tohono O’odham

What is the best takeaway of this week?

Meeting other women of different tribes. Knowing that they are going to be successful and that they are ready to move forward.

Nancy Garcia, during her speech as class representative
Nancy Garcia, during her speech as class representative

How do you plan to apply everything you have learned during this project?

I am looking to work independently as a consultant for business. For example, every tribe of Native Americans is required to list a role of members. This process can be very difficult and many people don’t know how to do it. I have done it for my tribe before, and now with the lessons taken here, I am planning to expand it to other tribes too.

What does being a Native American mean to you?

I am so proud to be a Native American woman. My culture is my identity. It defines who I am and it gives me strength to do lots of things.

How do you feel now that the program has come to an end?

I am very glad to be here. We have learned so much. Your teaching staff is so respectful. They put everything on a level that we could understand during each lesson. They let us know that they are teaching us, but they are also learning from us. Everybody is so welcome: teachers, mentors, and students. I don’t think it would have been the same without their help.

Rhoda J. Etheldah; Tribe: White Mountain Apache

What were your expectations when you started this program and how do you compare them with the outcome today (graduation’s day)?

At the beginning, I didn’t have any expectations. I just applied because I heard it would be about entrepreneurship. And as I want to become an entrepreneur, I thought it would help me. During this week, my mind was blown by the amount of time and money that the organizers invested into the program. I feel that I can now just conquer the world, and I need to give this back to my community. I want to contribute to the impact that this can make for minorities.

How do you plan to apply everything you have learned during this project?

Rhoda, receiving her diploma on graduation's day.
Rhoda, receiving her diploma on graduation’s day.

For the past 26 years, I have been a professional musician. I am also a motivational speaker and radio host of my own radio show called “A Warrior´s Future” (88.1 FM KNNB, a local station of the White Mountain Apache reservation). After this week, I want to start a business that will inspire young adults to be sober. We don’t have many places to hang around, so I am thinking of opening a place to host different events and activities that will allow people to stay away from alcohol. For example, dance lessons, movie nights, meetings, etc…

What does being a Native American mean to you?

As a Native American, a lot of positive things come to my mind that I feel very proud. We are historically the first inhabitants of the Americas, and we are very peaceful, respectable, and respectful people. This is something I believe has been lost with evolution particularly. I want to bring that value and natural sense of humanity that we have lost with the images that the media portrays back to the Native American people.

What message do you want to say to the Thunderbird community?

With complete and sincere compassion, thank you all for welcoming us and collectively being so hospitable. Peace be with you!

Special Thanks 

The success of this program wouldn’t have been possible without the group of volunteers, mentors, professors, and staff who were involved in the project. As a final note, Katherine Zuga gives her gratitude to them:

“Thunderbird for Good extends its gratitude to the entire Thunderbird community for offering a warm welcome to the 2017 DreamCatcher class. 2017 M.A in Global Affairs and Management candidates, Ellen Alexander, Faduma Mohamed, and Allison Skabrat, participated as volunteers in the first cohort in 2015. As Thunderbird for Good student workers, Ellen Alexander has contributed to all aspects of program planning, recruitment, and execution for the second cohort, and Faduma Mohamed recruited and managed a team of 20 student volunteers for this past week’s on-campus events. Askia Stewart Junior, 2019 Bachelor of Global Management candidate and Thunderbird for Good student worker, produced videos and photography for the project’s social media campaign and graduation ceremony. Tanya Jabra, 2018 Bachelor of Global Management candidate, prepared materials and logistics for this past week’s events. Thunderbird student participation was essential to the project’s success.”


Check out this article published in Dastor October 2015 about the project and the latest photos available on Thunderbird’s Flickr account

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