Tyee Russell credits his grandfather, a union laborer, for guiding him through a career that began as a union carpenter working in construction to his current position as a partner in Intertribal Transport.
“He instilled a really good work ethic in me growing up and taught me a trade, and I’ve carried it with me ever since,” he said.
Russell was nursing a broken finger at home last year and thinking about a new professional direction after decades of working in construction. He knew that being a business owner and investing in himself was the right choice.
“I wanted more representation for Native Americans within trucking,” he said, noting there are more than
50 tribes in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho but few, if any, Native-owned trucking companies.
Russell also discovered during his research and business planning that codes and ordinances require tribes to hire Native-owned companies if their bids are among the lowest. Ex- emptions through sovereign and treaty rights provide an opportunity for him “to be super competitive immediately, provide jobs and bring pride to communities.”
Intertribal Transport carries general freight and is expanding into refrigerated foods and construction materials, with future plans to add importing to its roster. Russell is partnering with other Native-owned businesses to create an all-inclusive trucking company that includes wholesale tires and bulk fuel that will allow it to operate its own fueling stations for the fleet and drive down maintenance costs.
Russell said he hopes to serve as a model for others who have walked similar paths, adding Native Ameri- cans, in general, have high levels of generational trauma dating from as far back as the 1850s.
“By being an example and seeking and utilizing resources, I’ll be able to help people be competitive in financial endeavors,” he said. “Reservations are in highly rural areas so it’s kind of hard for the spirit to trade off being around culture. I’m seeking to provide an avenue where we can find more balance and have the best of both worlds.”
Through his own journey as a business owner, Russell faced people who discouraged him. He advised other aspiring and new business owners to remember, no matter what difficulties they may face, to never give up.
“Ultimately, I created and found more encouraging and supportive environments like NAMC. Now all of us are under a collective and can be encouraged that way, and it’s kind of a historic moment,” he said.
Now the proud grandfather of 5 and 6-year-old grandchildren, Rus- sell is sharing the same guidance he received when he was growing up. “They are my motivation because the whole purpose for me nowadays is to be an example for them and others