Stephine Poston just returned from Las Vegas, Nev., where she was named Native Woman Business Owner of the Year by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.
Poston is the president and CEO of Poston and Associates, a communications and marketing firm in Albuquerque.
She has spent her life trying to help tribes throughout New Mexico, but it began with her own Sandia Pueblo.
She worked for the pueblo for 11 years as a travel planner, then at the Department of Health, Safety and Education, then in public relations. She said by the time she looked to start her own business in 2004, she had all of the connections needed to hit the ground running.
Poston said she and her three siblings were raised by a single mother, and her grandfather was a present and strong force in their lives.
“My mom worked really hard for us,” she said
She said her mother gave her strength and resolve, her grandfather gave her the confidence to succeed, and her tribe gave her the bonds and motivation to help her community.
As Poston and Associates moves into the future, it is her hope that she can help Native women start their own businesses.
“I want Native women to know that starting their own business is a realistic and attainable goal,” Poston says.
Q: When did you start Poston and Associates?
A: Well, I probably started looking into it in 2002 and then I went full time about midyear in 2004.
Q: Can you explain to me a little bit about what Poston and Associates does?
A: We are a full-service communications and marketing firm. We do websites, we do facilitation, I staff high-level officials’ press releases. We do branding, marketing, strategic planning, meeting planning, event planning.
Q: Who are some of your clients?
A: The American Indian Graduate Center, which is the national organization headquartered here in Albuquerque. Americans for Indian Opportunity. I’m doing some work right now for an organization located out of the Pacific Northwest called Zero to Three. And I am also doing some work for Southwest Travel Housing Alliance, which is a consortium of travel housing authorities from the state of New Mexico, Arizona and the one tribe in Texas. This gives them a collective voice to advocate on housing issues together.
Q: What motivated you to start your own business?
A: A lot of my friends that I went to college with are currently business owners and they are also Natives, and so I’d see them in and around town at some of the same functions. And they’d say, “Hey Poston, when are you going to come do this? When are you going to start your own business? I think you have the experience and the background to really do well.”
Q: How many employees do you have now?
A: I have five part-time employees who help me out with different stuff.
Q: You seem to have been active for a very long time in your pueblo and Indian affairs. Has that always been something you wanted to do?
A: There is no better feeling of contentment and eagerness to go to work like I had when I worked for my tribe. Because, every day, you got a chance to go and do something for the people that you live with, for the people that you grew up with. And so that was just an awesome feeling. So, you know, how could I expand that? How could I replicate that with other tribes and tribal entities? And … I’m open to working with non-tribal entities, because they want to look at establishing relationships with tribes, but they are not sure how to go about that. And so there is a benefit to the tribes, and I look to facilitate that.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in starting your own business?
A: I didn’t see myself as a business owner and so just overcoming that part. And just being able to go out and see who’s doing something similar and not reinvent the wheel, and not be afraid to ask for that help. There are a lot of Native-owned businesses in Indian country. Not so much here in New Mexico, so you quickly learn to link up with those folks.
Q: What, from your perspective, is the biggest problem facing the tribes right now?
A: I would say that it’s that different tribes are at different places with (staffing). And so there is so much happening on a daily basis. I mean you are dealing with the local government. You are dealing with your own tribe and how you move them forward. You’re dealing with the state. You’re dealing with the federal government. And so being able to build capacity with your tribe is important so you can really facilitate all of those pieces coming at you.
Q: That’s a lot of bureaucracy. Have you found challenges working your way through all of that?
A: Yeah, I mean the tribes are savvy. They are committed to their own communities, and so that’s a good starting point.
Q: What kind of tangible benefits have you seen in the community as a result of the work Poston and Associates has done?
A: One of my best examples is when I worked for the Pueblo of Santa Clara on a get-out-the-vote initiative. So, initially they had 30 percent at the primaries, so leadership asked me to help and organize. We registered 200 voters and, at the general election, we had a 70 percent turnout. So when you can make those sort of differences or support that or help that it really gives the tribe a different space.
Q: Was that this past election?
A: The first Obama election.
Q: Do you do other community involvement projects outside of Poston and Associates?
A: Always. I just got put back on the Santa Fe Indian Market Board, so I’ll be doing that. And I also do some work for the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the Native American Advisory F und. But one of the big things that I really want to take on is to look more closely at doing some strategic planning around encouraging native New Mexican women to look at entrepreneurship as an economic opportunity for them. I’m actually starting to talk to people about that and looking for potential funders to support that.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I really like to golf, and I have come to really enjoy traveling.
Q: Are you good at golf?
A: I’m a really good driver. The rest of my game leaves a little to be desired.
Q: What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to?
A: Recently, I was blessed to get accepted to the women’s leadership program out at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. And so I did a 2 ½ -week training there last June. We did a lot of hard classroom time and training, but that was an amazing experience. The other one that was an absolute favorite was New Zealand. Meeting with our Maori brothers and sisters. That was pretty much life-changing. And about a year and a half ago, I got to go to Geneva, to the U.N., as I was working for Americans for Indian Opportunity on Indigenous Rights.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a teenager?
A: We grew up really close at the pueblo so I have, still to this day, a lot of great friends from the pueblo. We spent a lot of time playing sports. No golf, but a lot of pueblo softball team. My mom really kept an eye on the grades, also.
Q: Were you a troublemaker at all?
A: I like to think not. But I’m sure all of us have our quirks, right?
Q: What kind of music do you like?
A: I grew up in the ’80s, so a lot of ’80s music. And, you know, old school. I like George Strait, Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks. Also, my son, he taught himself how to powwow drum off of YouTube and he is really good. So I like that, too. He just played for the Amnesty International Conference. He took an international stage not too long ago and he just played with such confidence.