Photo by Laura Campbell
Studying business can leave Native American students feeling conflicted, says Joseph Scott Gladstone, career-track assistant professor at WSU Everett.
“They often perceive Western business ideas as capitalistic, highly competitive, and profit-driven—contrary to the Native way of doing things,” he says. “They wonder, ‘Is it OK to be Native and major in business?’”
Gladstone’s answer to the question is an unqualified “yes.” He teaches a range of business management courses and coauthored American Indian Business: Principles and Practices, an introduction to American Indian business practices. He’s also an enrolled member of the Blackfoot Nation and a Nez Perce Tribe descendant.
Gladstone has visited Native communities throughout the United States. He views management and business skills as transformative in helping tribes alleviate poverty through economic development and job creation.
When he worked in public health on Indian reservations in Arizona, Gladstone noticed that many of the health issues people faced were tied to poverty. The realization led him to a doctorate in management.
“Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to fix the economic problems,” he says, “and I think we should fix them through business.”
But Gladstone, who joined WSU Everett last year, also advocates for expanding the cultural context of business education. In an essay published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, he describes why it’s important for business educators to understand Native and Indigenous perspectives on community and relationships.
A degree begins with relationships
For Native American students, the journey to a college degree often begins through relationships in their community, Gladstone says.
“They were told by their elders to go to college, get educated, and come back to help their people,” he says. “But choosing to leave your community is a risky venture—particularly when you’re entering a much different environment.”
Native Americans make up less than 1 percent of both the US undergraduate and graduate student population, according to the nonprofit Postsecondary National Policy Institute. Studying business on a university campus can feel lonely and lead to a perceived clash of values.
“If Native students perceive business theory as coming from the West, with a focus on individual wealth acquisition, that creates conflict,” Gladstone says. “But there are other ways to look at wealth creation—the wealth we generate creates resources that benefit our entire community.”
Expanding business voices
Gladstone is working to bring diverse voices into the field of business management and increase the academic research from a Native and Indigenous viewpoint.
He founded the Native and Indigenous Peoples Caucus at the Academy of Management, the professional organization for management and organization scholars. The caucus brings together management scholars with Indigenous backgrounds from all over the world.
He’s also the author of “Coyote Learns Commerce,” a textbook chapter used at tribal colleges that explores American Indian worldviews and modern-day business practices.
Gladstone is eager to share his perspectives in the classroom. Last semester, he taught a business ethics seminar class, where he encouraged Carson College students to think broadly about values.
“We looked at classic issues such as cheating and financial ethics,” he says. “Students also discussed business ethics in the context of environmental protection and community service.”
Gladstone’s perspective is a valuable one for the Carson College, says Robert Crossler, Philip L. Kays Distinguished Associate Professor and chair of the Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship.
“I am very excited to have Joe in the MISE department. His insights as a management professor and Native American help prepare our students to enter a diverse workforce,” Crossler says. “Their ability to understand different cultural views about business decisions will increase their likelihood of success.”
Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to fix the economic problems, and I think we should fix them through business.
– Joe Gladstone