Interview with Eunice Tso, 2016 Native Woman Business Owner of the Year: “Be honest and ethical if you want to remain in the Native Business world”
Earlier this year, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development named Eunice Tso the 2016 Native Woman Business Owner of the Year. Today Tso, the founder of ETD, Incorporated, is considered one of the premier consulting forces within the Navajo Nation. Her initial vision to form a small, highly specialized environmental consulting business has evolved over the past 20 years to be an agent of both continuity and change for Navajo lands.
In 1987 Tso graduated from Northern Arizona University with a B.S. in geology, and was hired by the Navajo Nation's Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Department. After gaining practical experience, she returned to NAU for her M.S., focusing on environmental geology. By 1995 Tso was working part-time for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals while raising two boys with her husband, who was frequently away for work. She began to envision launching her own consulting firm.
“I knew I could create a niche for myself given that all or nearly all developments on the reservation require some type of environmental assessment,” Tso explains. Given both her personal background and postgraduate training, Tso had a full-scope understanding of the socioeconomic factors that were important to account for when developing land for commercial use on the Navajo nation.
For over twenty years, ETD (named for her initials, including her unofficial married name: Eunice Tso-Dotson) has been a leading force in land use and land use rights in Arizona. Tso connects specific opportunities and responsibilities with land development.
“Because of my background in geology and the area that was raised in, I always appreciated the land for its natural beauty and the history it contains. Land and land use rights are major issues on our reservation; livestock permit holders often stifle economic development. There are many illegal land uses. In spite of the rules on the books, there is no enforcement. Such illegal land uses include junkyards next to beautiful scenic areas. These are the kinds of issues that I try to address in my land use planning projects.”
Tso selects projects based on their potential to challenge the ETD team and be a credit to the company’s name. Her typical day goes beyond the office, with Tso volunteering to conduct field surveys. “I love driving to and through the Navajo reservation; it's so beautiful out there. On my best work days, I've flown in a plush helicopter over Lake Powell and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Parks, or into Havasupi Canyon.”
Among her many accomplishments, she is especially proud of ETD’s work on the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Improvement project. From 2005 to 2009 ETD oversaw a private-government partnership that ultimately produced a new visitor center, a 90-room hotel (“The View”) and new infrastructure.
Tso notes there is still a need for these kinds of lodging projects on the Navajo Nation. She wants the land to be more than a drive-through for travelers, and instead be the destination itself. Tourism is the “untapped gold mine.”
For young Native women looking for advice on how to achieve their own goals, Tso’s recommendation is simple, “Keep up with the paperwork part of running your business,” and, “Be honest and ethical if you want to remain in the Native business world.”
Tso’s work is both protective and progressive. On the one hand, she ensures that the Navajo land’s beauty is preserved and its boundaries respected. On the other, she is helping bolster the Navajo People’s cultural and economic sovereignty by assisting the community’s initiatives to modernize certain areas of the land. Tso emphasizes, “I think a person and/or community are sovereign when they are economically self-reliant and make decisions for themselves.”