Hołdzilei, a new business: Diné entrepreneurs get REI grant for a start-up adventure business



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

Hołdzilei Hiking Strong by Crystal Cree and Bryan Roessel, an adventure and hiking company, based in Tsééhílį, indicates that being strong does not mean those who show strength, but those who practice gratitude, define and stand in the dark places of life.

“We’re integrating what it means to be a strong person,” Cree explained. “Not just physically but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally as you hike, (and) relate that to who you are as a Diné.

“(Hołdzilei) can relate to life lessons and the difficulties we go through in life,” she said.

Roessel, its business partner, said people’s growing 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 disorders and mental illnesses.

People need to disconnect from their digital lives at least once in a while and get involved in unorganized games, and that’s what their company offers: an all-inclusive hiking experience in Diné Bikéyah, said Rossel.

“People are missing the outdoors because of all this technology,” he said. “Nature has healing powers.”

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

“We’re pretty excited about it!” Scream exclaimed. “We just started our business.”

Hołdzilei Hiking Strong LLC was incorporated in the Navajo Nation in November 2021, during which Young Business Partners applied for Embark.

“After submitting our application, two days (later) we got our Navajo Nation incorporation,” Cree said. “We are very excited about this.”


After submitting their Embark application on November 28, 2021, the Embark program 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 Roessel started the program on Tuesday, January 17, 2022.

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

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

At the end of the program, participants will receive an additional $5,000 to invest in building their business.

Embark’s weekly lineup includes workshops, fireside chats, and peer groups in which attendees work with a small group of founders to overcome obstacles, solve problems, and share learnings.

Cree said the only roadblock was Hołdzilei Hiking Strong’s registration with the Navajo Nation. The Economic Development Division office did not respond to his and Roessel’s calls.

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

The two had to wait a little longer because the office had to replace an employee who was doing the certifications.

“It took a total of six weeks for our business to be incorporated,” Cree explained. Fortunately, we had no errors on our papers.

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

Strong hike

Hołdzilei Hiking Strong was one of 240 applicants who applied to the Embark program and one of 16 accepted applicants.

“We were the only Navajo-owned Native American business,” Cree said. “(Although there is) another company that is indigenous.”

Cree and Roessel said that because they love hiking, they decided to start an adventure and hiking company that offers top notch hikes through Diné Bikéyah and focuses on connecting to the land.

“My dad used to take me hiking in the Navajo Nation a lot,” Cree said. “He used to teach the native plants that are out there, and (say) ‘If you get lost, look for this’ or ‘It’s wild carrots, and it’s wild onions.’

“I’m so used to being outdoors,” she says. “Hiking has always been part of my life. It’s something (my family and I) do almost every weekend. As we got older, we evolved into hiking.

Cree said she met Roessel at Diné College, where her friends and colleagues encouraged her to start a hiking club. She started the club and invited her friends and other students to get involved, but her outreach efforts were in vain due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“But I still made an effort to do (weekly) hikes,” Cree said.

She began sharing her hiking stories and her business idea with her supervisor, Diné College President Charles Roessel, Bryan’s father.

“He was like, ‘Bryan likes to hike.’ And we coordinated some of our friends to hike Zion National Park last year,” Cree said. “(Bryan and I) became friends, and over the past year we’ve shared ideas about hiking, and his dad was like, ‘Why don’t you start a hiking business?’ We just ran with it.

Bryan Roessel always wanted to start an adventure business in the Nation. Growing up in Tódinéeshzhee’ and the Tsébii’ndzisgaii region, a tourist destination, inspired him to start planning a sightseeing tour business early in his life.

Roessel said when he was younger, he unwittingly led a backpacking tour through Navajo land after encountering tourists at the Kayenta Monument Valley Inn.

“I had a truck with bags ready to go, and tourists (came up and asked) ‘Hey, can we go?’ In the end, they (gave) me some money. That’s how it all started,” Roessel said. “(The tourists) said, ‘You really have to charge for this. wonderful! We had a blast. Thank you.'”

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

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

“Once Crystal and I started hanging out and hiking, we started talking and taking (the hiking business) seriously,” Roessel said. “Indeed, everything fell into place. ‘Let’s do this! Let’s do this!’ We started a business and applied for the LLC.

“Then all of a sudden we hear about the (Embarque) grant, and we’re like, ‘We should apply! Let’s do it!’ So we did, and Crystal sent the application, and we responded and were accepted. Then came interview time, and we did the final round. Now we start the program.

Favorite hikes

There are probably hundreds of hikes in Diné Bikéyah: over the Chuska Mountains, over White Mesa in western Navajo, from Naatsis’áán to Rainbow Bridge, and from Tsaile to T’iis Názbąs, to name a few. some.

Cree said her favorite hike is over the Chuska because it takes people to an area only a few can see.

“That’s why it’s one of my favorite places to hike,” Cree said. “For many Navajo, this could be a place to help reconnect to the land.

“One of the philosophies of our (company) is to make sure that the people we welcome on these treks understand and respect our Diné Bikéyah,” she said, “and that they understand certain practices that we have.

“And recognize from our perspective what not to do and what you should do,” she said. “We want to offer that through our business. We want to inspire others to appreciate and care for the earth.

Cree said that Diné Bizaad is directly connected to the land and the Diné, and those who take a trip with Hołdzilei Hiking Strong will understand this.

“We say that we are the children of the holy people, it is directly related to the land,” Cree explained, “and the story of the creation of our rulers: (Mą’iitsoh, Náshdóíts’ǫǫį, Shash and the four sacred mountains, respectively) They are still our leaders.

“So in that connection to the land are the four sacred mountains,” she said. “It’s something that has been lost, (and) not understood,” she said. “The land is interchangeable with our language and who we are as a people.”

Cree and Roessel are employees of Diné College. The cry originates from Tónaneesdizí. She is Tsédeeshgizhníí and was born for Bįįh Bitoodnii. His maternal grandfather is Tł’izíłání and his paternal grandfather is Ta’neeszahnii.

Roessel is Bitáá’chii’nii (Táchii’nii) and born for Kinyaa’áanii. His maternal grandfather is Tódík’ózhí and his paternal grandfather is Scottish.

Information: www.rankingstrong.biz


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