In the National Center’s May newsletter, we sat down with JoAn Notah, who is our Senior Procurement Specialist for the American Indian Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). JoAn started at the National Center in 1999 and now provides invaluable assistance and insight to clients who are trying to get their ideas off the ground. Though JoAn is a diehard Arizona State Sun Devil football fan, she’s learning to make room for a Wildcat; her daughter is studying veterinary medicine at the University of Arizona. We hope you enjoy our profile of JoAn and the pride she takes in her work with our clients.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in Indian Country.
I am a Navajo tribal member. I am ‘Áshííhíí (Salt People Clan) born to the Mą ’íí deeshgíízhíníí (Coyote Pass People Clan), my maternal grandfather was Tábą ą há (Water’s Edge People Clan) and my paternal grandfather was Táchii’nii (Red Running into the Water People Clan). This is how we introduce ourselves in the Navajo way. I am originally from the communities of Woodsprings and Kinlichee, Arizona, located on the Navajo Nation. I am a mother of three; my daughter Loretta is studying Veterinary Medicine at the University of Arizona, my son Christopher is at Arizona State University studying business law and biomedical engineering, and my youngest son Charles will start junior high school in the fall. My husband, Emerson, is a tile contractor.
My work in Indian Country focuses on assisting American Indian businesses in the area of federal contracting. My territory is all of Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. I work within the offices of the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development (NN-DED) in St. Michaels, Arizona, near Window Rock. I work with small business clients and tribal enterprises, with a focus on federal contract opportunities. In partnership with the NN-DED, we host the Navajo Nation Economic Summit and the Navajo Nation Business Opportunity Day events. These events provide opportunities to grow the Navajo economy by promoting Navajo small businesses and creating a networking platform.
What made you interested in joining the National Center?
I first came to the National Center in 1999 as a recent college graduate from Arizona State University’s WP Carey College of Business. I later earned my MBA at Grand Canyon University at the Ken Blanchard College of Business. I loved the mission of the National Center and its work in “helping Tribal Nations and Native business people realize their business goals and are dedicated to putting the whole of Indian Country to work to better the lives of American Indian people- both now… and for generations to come.”
I thought that it was truly a worthy mission and I still believe in our mission today. The National Center has made a tremendous difference for many small businesses and tribal enterprises over the course of its 50-year history. The National Center’s advocacy in Washington, DC has brought about many opportunities and funding in support of its mission. I love the idea of contributing to this mission and, in my small way, making a difference.
What have you enjoyed about your experience at the National Center? What are you working on currently?
I enjoy my work at the National Center because every day we create opportunities for Native Americans in business. I have the unique role in developing a tribal member’s business idea and guiding them to the right resources to get their ideas off the ground. I enjoy meeting new people every day and learning from others. I like developing relationships with others in business, government, and corporations and connecting people with each other. Essentially, I am a facilitator. I facilitate meetings between buyers and sellers, mentors and protégés, partners in business and on the reservation and in urban communities.
Currently, I am planning the 9th Annual Navajo Nation Business Opportunity Day. This event will be held at the Navajo Nation Museum on October 29, 2019. The focus of this event is small business opportunities and we will host a business matchmaking event to bring buyers and sellers together to share information about contract opportunities and the products and services our small businesses provide.
I also enjoy traveling and meeting people. I enjoy meeting Navajos everywhere I go – even as far away as Rhode Island! Sometimes, I am the first full-blood Navajo or Native American that a person may meet. People don’t think we exist anymore. But, we are still here and our Navajo culture and our people are still strong.
What’s the one piece of advice or words of encouragement you would give to a young professional who wants to get more involved in his or her tribe, or the broader American Indian and Alaska Native community?
I tell young people the same thing that I tell my own children: see what is out there for you. There are limitless opportunities if you just step out and see what the world has to offer. I remind my children to know that they are Navajo, and they are special and unique. They are the children of the Holy People of the Dine’ and they are blessed. My husband and I support our children in whatever interests them… whether its orchestra, football, science, or exploring the depths of the ocean like my brave daughter just did in her study abroad program in the Sea of Cortez. She earned her scuba diving certificate for this class. I am so proud of her. I don’t know where she got the courage from, certainly not from me, because I don’t swim!
In Navajo, we have a saying, T’áá hwó ají t’éego. It means ‘It’s up to you’. It’s up to you if you want to earn good grades and do very well in school. It’s up to you to study and succeed in college and beyond. It’s up to you to get up and go to work and excel in your job. It’s all up to you. That’s good advice for Navajos and all people.
When you’re not working on attending a National Center event, where can we find you? What are your hobbies?
When I’m not working, I am most likely with my family. I support and encourage my children in their activities and take them out to learn new things. They are teaching me about all that they are learning now. Growing up on the Navajo Reservation, I felt that I didn’t have as much opportunities as they have had growing up in the city. They are fearless.
I also help my husband with this contracting business by doing his administrative work, bidding projects, and hauling tile and materials. We’ve been partners in business for over 30 years. I also enjoy reading. My husband and I are football fans, particularly of the Arizona State Sun Devils. But, soon, we will have a house-divided with our daughter, who will be a University of Arizona Wildcat. It’s the biggest rivalry in our state – and soon, our household!