Jiigewegaabaw: Looks over the edge for his people and family

Joe Nayquonabe, Jr. running the NYC Marathon. Nayquonabe picked up running late in life. (Photo by Chris Clitso-Nayquonabe.)

By Dan Ninham

Jiigewegaabaw: My wen’ehs (namesakes) saw me in a dream looking over the water, looking out over Lake Mille Lacs. The translation is he who looks out over the edge,” said Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe member Joe Nayquonabe, Jr.

Often native people live their Indian names they received as babies into their adulthood.
Joe Nayquonabe, Jr., 38, looks out over the edge as a leader for his people. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the boardroom, the high endurance miles he runs, or mutually taking care of his family with his wife Chris, 39, and daughters Bella Nizhoni, 15, Dalylah, 15, Phoenix-Rose, 10 and Xiana Victoria, 8.

“I am from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in east central Minnesota,” said Nayquonabe. “I grew up in District I located along the western shores of Lake Mille Lacs. I am also German. My mom was from southwestern Minnesota near Graceville. My parents are my dad Joe Sr. and my late mom Rita.”

Joe is a long distance runner and completed three marathons: New York City, Twin Cities, and Chicago, and over 30 half marathons. “I picked up marathon running later in life and I found out how rewarding it is to stay active and athletic as we get older,” Nayquonabe said.

He is also a former Red Lake Warrior basketball player with all the credentials to be one, including being a conference and district champion twice, with a section championship and a trip to the state tournament. He had 1711 career points and made three all-conference teams. Once a Red Lake Warrior, you’re always a Red Lake Warrior. The tradition of excellence is contagious.

Joe said of his core values, “The seven grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe are the area’s I identify as my core values – including honesty, humility, bravery, truth, respect, wisdom, and love. These define everything I do in life. My first thought when I approach a new relationship or a new opportunity in business or a new challenge is to ground myself in the teachings.”

Successful people have many positive people who have been influential in their lives and careers.

“My dad is Joe Nayquonabe, Sr.,” said Joe. “For many reasons, but mostly because he took his role as a father more serious than I can imagine any other human being doing, and I was lucky to have that, he wanted to spend every available minute with us when he got off work. Playing basketball, lifting weights, going to the movies, golfing, and playing racquetball. I aspire to be at peace with life in the way that he is.”

“Vicki Graves opened up her home to me in Red Lake and cared for me as if I was her own flesh and blood,” said Joe. “She taught me so many life lessons and I learned how to be a well rounded person thanks to her. She loved basketball but she wasn’t raising a basketball player, she was raising men. I learned to appreciate spirituality from her. She was my sounding board, counselor, and coach. Everything a great mother is, she was to me and she was super-generous to do that for me. Our youngest daughter is named after her and she possesses the spirit Vicki has, which is pretty incredible.”

“Success is striving towards balance in work, family, social, spirituality, and leisure,” said Joe. “I don’t think you can ever find perfect balance but recognizing the need for it and living a life that strives for it is success. I think people could do an amazing job at work and find great financial growth but if it’s at the cost of missing basketball games or school plays I don’t think that can be called success. Success in life is a function of your decisions, not your conditions. We can decide to let our conditions (poverty, neglect, racism, etc.) bring us down or we can decide that they are fuel.”

“I think it is cool to see athletes succeed off the court and I think I’ve done that as CEO of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures,” said Joe. “Not just self-proclaimed but recognized by business authorities including being named Most Admired CEO in Minnesota by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in 2018. This is a first ever for a Native American.”