Hołdzilei, New Venture: Diné Entrepreneurs Win REI Grant for Startup Venture Company


Their company name embodies what it means to be someone who can transcend their circumstances.

Crystal Cree and Bryan Roessel’s Hołdzilei Hiking Strong, an adventure and hiking company, based in Tsééhílį, suggest that being strong doesn’t mean those who show strength but those who practice gratitude, define themselves, and stand within the dark places of life.

“We incorporate what it means to be a strong individual,” Cree explained. “Not just physically but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally while hiking, (and) associate this with who you are as religious.

“(Hołdzilei) can deal with the life lessons and hardships we go through in life,” she said.

Russell, her business partner, said that people’s increasing affinity for the Internet, video games and television is causing them to disconnect from nature. This, in turn, contributes to problems such as obesity, behavioral conditions, and mental illness.

Russell said people need to at least disconnect from their digital lives from time to time and engage in an unstructured game, and that’s what their company offers: an all-inclusive walking experience at Diné Bikéyah.

“People miss being outdoors because of all this technology,” he said. “Nature has healing powers.”

Cree and Roessel recently received a commercial grant from Embark, a program developed in collaboration with REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) Co-op Path Ahead Adventures and Founded Outdoors.

“We are very excited about it!” Cree shouted. “We have just started our company.”

Hołdzilei Hiking Strong LLC was incorporated in the Navajo Nation in November 2021, with young business partners applying for Embark.

“After we filed our application, two days later (after), we got our foundation from the Navajo Nation,” Cree said. “We are very excited about that.”

Getting started

After the Embark application was submitted on November 28, 2021, Embark selected Hołdzilei Hiking Strong as a finalist and invited Cree and Roessel to a 30-minute interview on December 7.

Embark notified the Young Business Partners of their acceptance into the three-month virtual program on December 20. Cree said she and Russell began the program on Tuesday, January 17, 2022.

The program is designed to support new and aspiring entrepreneurs as they build a path forward by providing resources and guidance to turn early stage ideas into viable businesses, according to the Embark website.

Embark awards $5,000 to participants – or founders – at the start of the program so they can build their businesses.

When they complete the program, participants will receive an additional $5,000 to invest in building their company.

Embark’s weekly programming includes workshops, breakout talks, and peer groups in which participants work with a small group of founders to overcome roadblocks, solve problems, and share what they’ve learned.

Cree said the only barrier is Hołdzilei Hiking Strong’s registration with the Navajo Nation. The Economic Development Department’s office did not return her calls, nor did Russell’s.

“We kept bugging them,” Cree said. “We placed our order in mid-October, and were told it would take 10 days. We waited for 10 days, and then called.”

The two had to wait a little longer because the office had to replace the employee who had obtained the certificates.

It took a full six weeks to integrate our business,” Cree explained. Fortunately, we did not have any errors in our papers.

“Just a piece of advice for new companies: don’t hesitate and keep bugging them,” she added.

Vigorous hiking

Hołdzilei Hiking Strong was one of 240 applicants for the Embark programme, and was one of 16 applicants accepted.

“We were the only Native American company, owned by Navajo,” Cree said. “(Although) there is another company that is an original company.”

Cree and Roessel said that because they enjoy hiking, they decided to start an adventure and hiking company that would offer hiking tours through Diné Bikéyah and focus on connecting with the Earth.

“My dad used to take me for walks a lot in the Navajo Nation,” Cree said. “He would teach the native plants out there, and (say), ‘If you get lost, find this,’ or ‘These are wild carrots, and they are wild onions.'”

“I’m used to being outdoors,” she said. “Hiking has always been a part of my life. It’s something I (me and my family) do almost every weekend. As I got older, we progressed to backpacking.”

Cree said she met Russell at Deene College, where her friends and classmates encouraged her to start a hiking club. She set up the club and invited her friends and other students to participate, but the outreach efforts have been in vain due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“But I still do my best to go on (weekly) trips,” Cree said.

She began sharing her stories about hiking and her business idea with her supervisor, Denis College President, Charles Russell, Brian’s father.

“He was like, ‘Brian loves to take walks. “And we arranged some of our friends to go for a picnic in Zion National Park last year,” Cree said. “(Brian and I) became friends, and over the past year, we’ve exchanged ideas about hiking, and his dad was like, ‘Why don’t you start a hiking company? “We just ran with her.”

Bryan Roessel has always wanted to start an adventure company in The Nation. Growing up in Tódinéeshzhee and in the Tsébii’ndzisgaii district, a tourist destination, it inspired him to start planning a guided tour company early in his life.

When he was younger, Russell said, he inadvertently led a guided backpacking tour through Navajo land after meeting tourists at the Quenta Monument Valley Inn.

“I had a truck with bags ready to go, and some tourists (they came up and asked), ‘Hey, can we go?'” ‘At the end they gave me money. That’s how it all began,’ said Russell. ‘(The tourists), ‘you really need to pay for this,’ said Russell. that’s cool! We had a blast. Thank you.'”

To date, he has led over 10 guided backpacking trips, each lasting up to four days.

The best part of it all, he said, is that visitors can see stunning views of Navajo land, where he grew up playing on the rocks.

“As soon as Crystal and I started hanging out and going on hikes, we started talking and taking[the hiking company]seriously,” Russell said. “Everything must have fallen into place. ‘Let’s do it! Let’s do it!’ We started a business and applied for an LLC.

“And then all of a sudden we hear about the (Embark) scholarship, and we say, ‘We must move forward! Let’s do it!’ So, we did, Crystal sent the request, we heard back and were accepted. Then it was interview time, and we did the final round. Now, we’re starting the program.”

Favorite heights

There will likely be hundreds of hiking trips in Dené Beke: over the Chuska Mountains, over the White Mesa in West Navajo, from Naatsis’án to the Rainbow Bridge, and from T’IIs to T’iis Názbąs, to name a few.

Cree said her favorite hike is above Chuska because it takes people through an area that few see.

“That’s why it’s one of my favorite places to go hiking,” Cree said. “For many of the Navajos, it can be a place to help reconnect with the land.

She said: “One of (our company’s) philosophies is to make sure that the people we host at these altitudes understand and respect Dina Becky, and that they understand our particular practices.

“And admit from our perspective what not to do and what you should do,” she said. “We want to deliver that through our company. We want to inspire others to appreciate and take care of the Earth.”

Cree said his Denny Pizad is directly connected to the earth and his religion, and those who take a trip with Hołdzilei Hiking Strong will understand that.

“We say we are the children of the holy people, and that is directly connected to the land,” Cree explained, and the creation story about our leaders: (Mą’iitsoh, Náshdóíts’, Shash, and the Four Holy Mountains, respectively). They are still our leaders.

“So, in this respect, the Earth is the Four Holy Mountains,” she said. “This is something that was lost,” she said, “(and) not understood.” “The land is interchangeable with our language and who we are as a people.”

Cree and Russell are employees of a religious college. Cree from Tunnisdisze. She is Tsédeeshgizhníí born for Bįįh Bitoodnii. Her maternal grandfather is T’izíłání and her paternal grandfather is Ta’neeszahnii.

Roessel is Bitáchii’nii (Táchii’nii) born in Kinyaa’áanii. His maternal grandfather is Tódík’ózhí, and his paternal grandfather is Scottish.

Information: hikingstrong.biz

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