Cayuse Technologies: Tribally Owned Business Grows Small Town for a Decade
May 2016, Tribal Business Journal
Pendleton, Oregon.–In the town of Pendleton, Oregon, sits a technology company that has been 10 years in the making. Owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Cayuse Technologies LLC is the third-largest employer in the Pendleton area to both Native and local residents.
Cayuse Technologies was founded through an investment initiative by Accenture, a global professional service and Fortune 500 company, and the research of then Accenture partner Randall Willis (Oglala Lakota). With the push for jobs to stay on American soil, Accenture assigned Willis to find a location for a telecommunications startup that could deliver the same kind of quality service as seen overseas but be less expensive. Having lived in Pine Ridge and near reservations all his life, Willis saw the potential for economic growth and technological development for tribal governments.
“Most Natives live where they live regardless of economic opportunity,” claims Willis. “Part of it is because they were forced there, part of it is because it’s their ancestral lands. That was the hypothesis. There’s a large population, and with mentoring and training, they could do technology activities.”
Willis constructed a business case and demographic that factored in a large enough population, was located near higher education institutions such as colleges, had good transportation systems, featured accessible child care facilities and maintained a stable family environment. After researching five or six reservations, including Pueblos and Cheyenne River Sioux, Willis pitched the idea to CTUIR. (His wife is an enrolled member and he was familiar with several board members.)
There are 2,965 tribal members who are a part of CTUIR, which consists of Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse tribes. In 1994, the tribe established the Wildhorse Resort & Casino and now employs more than 800 individuals.
“Our tribal government tries to provide a supportive policy environment for our enterprises,” says Rosenda Shippentower, a member of the board of directors and treasurer for CTUIR. “We provide the most employment opportunities in the area.”
The idea of launching a new enterprise was too beneficial to pass up, and Cayuse Technologies was established in 2006. The company started out with 25 employees, a majority of whom were tribal members who had undergone training and began working with a department of health services in Austin, Texas. Willis used his connections with Accenture and the company began expanding, building a good reputation by being price competitive, quick to deliver and having a great product.
“Because [Cayuse] is owned by a Native tribe, it creates an advantage,” says the company’s CEO Billy Nerenberg. “We lead with our capability and that leads to a good story.”
Part of that good story is because of the people involved. Cayuse employs people from all walks of life, with a particular focus on the younger generations who are in college and even those that do not finish but show actual aptitude.
Lead Staffing Recruiter David Filkins is among the latter. He is an enrolled member and has been with the company for over three years. Born and raised on the Umatilla Reservation, Filkins was instilled with a strong work ethic at an early age and began working at a golf course at 14. He traveled along the Northwest Coast working in the wine distribution industry while never straying too far from the reservation and his family. Eventually, he returned to the reservation and applied for a job at Cayuse.
“I honestly thought I’d only be collecting checks and started out at the help desk,” says Filkins. “I had customer service skills and I turned into the guy that troubleshoots your computer.”
Since then, Filkins has continuously been promoted to leadership roles. He says the open-door policy only adds to Cayuse’s distinguishable business structure and made it possible for him to achieve his desired job as a recruiter.
“The secret of any business: You have a core group of people that wake up every day trying to think of how to make things work,” says Willis. “The success relies on individuals and their commitment.”
Cayuse Technologies has subsequently undergone many changes, but its five core values – quality, diversity, harmonious heart, integrity and teamwork/family – have remained the same. The staff has grown to nearly 300 employees over the years and the company’s capability has not faltered.
“Change is required to grow a company,” says Nerenberg. “Once people catch the vision and start to believe, they can do anything.”
The company has expanded past telecommunications with its stateof- the-art facilities that offer services both nationally and internationally in marketing/branding, software/application development, business processing and data skill set.
“I remember when this was just a big wheat field,” recalls Filkins. “To be able to see these new amazing job opportunities in my lifetime is just a blessing. It’s easy for me to sell Cayuse because I love Cayuse.”
Article by Monica Whitepigeon, originally appeared in Tribal Journal Magazine.