Colville tribal entreprenuer Roxanne Best kept her multiple business ventures going through a small emergency loan from the Northwest Native Development Fund through pandemic.

OMAK- Roxanne Best kept three businesses – photography, paddle-board yoga and teaching workshops - afloat last summer with a $5,000 COVID-related “business mercy” loan through the Northwest Native Development Fund, a community development financial institution on the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington.

CDFIs are private financial institutions that are dedicated to delivering affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged people and communities. CDFIs mostly focus on specific communities or regions and provide funding and other services to encourage economic development and economic security. 

Best, a member of the Colville Tribe, had been independently teaching “Indianpreneur” classes, marketing and artist-in-business workshops for four years before she needed a loan of her own from NNDF.

During the loan process, Best was hired by NNDF as a marketing consultant to help Natives with business planning, adding a third leg to her personal economic-development stool. 

Best was re-launching her photography business, Roxtography, specializing in high school senior portraits, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She had purchased marketing materials and was scheduled to attend several events to showcase her product to clients.

“Then the pandemic hit and all the gigs I was scheduled for were canceled,” Best said in a telephone interview from her home 40 miles south of the Canadian border. “The income I was expecting was gone.” 

She needed a financial boost that would pay immediate bills and, ultimately, unleash new ideas.

The NNDF loan and support from the staff provided the “catalyst that gave me the opportunity and confidence” to keep the businesses alive.

Best said the NNDF loan provided cash flow that allowed her to replace stress with creativity.

“That $5,000 is all it took to get out of the stressed-out mindset,” she said. “Now the bills are paid. You’ve got a good month or two to figure out how to make things work. That one little loan transformed the direction I was able to grow with my businesses.”

Best, 47, was born and raised on the Colville Indian Reservation. After high school she moved to Long Beach, California, to study fashion at Brooks College. She moved in 1994 to Miami Shores, Florida, to attend Barry University because it was the only four-year degree program that offered a specialty in SCUBA diving. 

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in sports management, specializing in SCUBA diving with a minor in business. After college she lived for a year on a boat in the Turks and Caicos Islands to teach diving and lead tours. 

“This is where my passion for photography grew into more than a hobby. I had the opportunity, and job, of taking photos and videos of all sorts of faces – fish, sharks, turtles and people.”

Best spent the next 10 years at various places, including Hawaii, where she taught SCUBA diving, and in Texas, where she attended the Texas Culinary Academy and became a chef. She realized, however, that “I loved making food look pretty and taking photos of it more than I loved preparing and washing dishes.”

She got married and became a mother, got divorced and, ultimately, in 2009 she moved back to the Colville Reservation where she started teaching yoga, coaching CrossFit and became an events coordinator. 

“It was good being closer to family and for my kiddos to be around all of their cousins,” Best said. “Having family around, I remembered how important it is to have those whole relationships with cousins, grandmas and grandpas, aunties and uncles.”

She worked for five years at the 12 Tribes Casino in food and beverage, administration and marketing, but found herself longing to share her love of yoga with others.

In 2013, she completed YogaFit training, which requires participants to volunteer to teach eight hours of classes.

Best contacted a local gym and suggested she would donate her time to teach eight one-hour classes and “if the people love it, you can hire me.”

The classes were successful and Best eventually achieved 200 hours of training, including two specialties, “Yoga for Warriors” that provides a basic understanding of post-traumatic stress syndrome and its effects on the body and brain, and “Warrior Kids.”

People were needing ways to heal from past stress as well as the compounding COVID-activated micro-stressors. Best became “trauma sensitive” and now specializes in certified yoga methods that address trauma and addiction recovery. 

Yoga, she said, can be a good companion to talk therapy, “allowing us to get back into our bodies and release those traumas and stresses we don’t have words for” with movement such as dancing, singing, breathing and “being out in nature.”

When the coronavirus arrived at the end of winter last year, Best offered free online classes.

“I was able to stay somewhat relevant through that. I kept my sanity by doing the online classes,” she said.

When the weather warmed, Best rented space or instructed yoga participants outdoors in parks where they could safely social distance.

Her SCUBA-diving days likely influenced her venture into paddle-board yoga, which proved popular and prosperous in the summer of 2020. 

All six of her boards were booked for the summer classes. This year, with the purchase of a larger vehicle that can carry more boards and pull a trailer, Best hopes to provide paddle board yoga classes for up to 10 students.

The paddle board yoga only lasts during warm months, so Best continues her photography, land-based yoga and workshops to help other small businesses succeed.

In 2018, Best was awarded the First Peoples Fund Artist-in-Business Leadership Fellowship, which only confirmed her artistic aspirations.

She has recently photographed eight baskets for weaver Julie Edwards.

However, her bread-and-butter is portrait photography, especially photos for high school seniors.

As spring arrives, as Best eyes senior portraits and the paddle-board yoga season, she is cognizant of the role played by the Northwest Native Development Fund in helping her through stressful times and on her way to continued success.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the support provided by the NNDF,” Best said. “Anytime I say this to Ted Piccolo (NNDF Executive Director), he humbly says it was all me. I reply, ‘Ted, you showed me doors I didn’t know were there and, in many cases, you opened the doors.’ It was up to me to walk through.”

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