A Look at Resources and Programs for Native American Small Business Owners
Although they are very entrepreneurial, Native Americans have historically struggled to get jobs and access capital for small businesses. As of January 2022, the unemployment rate among Native Americans is 11.1% versus 4.4% for the rest of the country. But entities like the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are looking to expand startup and franchise business opportunities for Native Americans through education and advocacy.
Through the SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA), millions of American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians have full access to the agency’s procurement and development programs. There are countless other resources available for entrepreneurial native people to succeed.
The SBA and Public Private Strategies Institute, an independent research and education organization, hosted a webinar specifically for Native American entrepreneurs in a series called “Building a Better America: A Small Business Resource Community.” With this series, the SBA and Public Private Strategies Institute want to connect small business owners with resources and information about how government resources like the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and Made in America can help them thrive. The webinars also highlight policy issues, such as paid leave and tax credits, and provide updates regarding SBA programs. Renee Johnson, senior advisor at the Public Private Strategies Institute, hosted and introduced the speakers.
Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs
Tribes are very diverse. No two tribes are the same. Just because you do business with one tribe doesn’t mean it’ll be the same with another tribe.
Bryan Newland, the 14th Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs (ASIA) at the U.S. Department of the Interior. is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), where he was tribal president. As the ASIA, Newland works with the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to hold that post.
Indian Affairs covers the entire gamut of federal government services, except health care, in conjunction with 574 tribal nations and those on Indian land. With his colleagues at the Office of Indian Economic Development, Newland promotes American Indian-owned businesses. Since agriculture is a driver of jobs and economic growth for Native Americans, Newland partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other individuals on leasing, grazing and supporting agriculture. Newland has also worked with the Indian Health Service to modernize the Buy Indian Act, which gives procurement authority to the Department of the Interior for Native American-owned businesses.
The Department of the Interior also runs the loan guarantee program for Native American businesses both on and off tribal lands. Furthermore, Indian Affairs established the Native American Business Development Institute to provide grants and technical assistance for tribal entities that are looking for consultants that can do feasibility studies, help develop business plans, and more.
Since all Indian tribes do business differently and are their own sovereign governmental entities, Newland advises being respectful when working with any of them. “Tribes are very diverse. No two tribes are exactly the same,” Newland says. “Just because you do business with one tribe doesn’t mean it’ll be the same with another tribe.”
PaaWee Rivera, Senior Advisor to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Director of Tribal Affairs
The passion comes from being able to engage with tribal leaders, being able to hear their stories, hear their priorities and understand the ways that we can help fulfill our trust and responsibility.
PaaWee Rivera, senior advisor to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and director of tribal affairs, is a member of the Pueblo of Pojoaque in New Mexico who dedicates his career to the native communities he loves.
“The passion comes from being able to engage with tribal leaders, being able to hear their stories, hear their priorities and understand the ways that we can help fulfill our trust and responsibility,” Rivera said. He wants to empower these communities and help them be self-determined business owners. As a member of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Rivera works to build stronger relationships with sovereign tribal governments.
To increase equity across the administration, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum on day six of his presidency allowing all federal agencies to consult tribes and make plans to consult them. There is also the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which is chaired by Haaland and Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice.
“That is really our large interagency policy committee, with six subcommittees focused on different issue areas, chaired by different secretaries and other administration leadership,” Rivera said. To further show its commitment to Native Americans, there is also a White House Tribal Nations Summit to discuss key issues and priorities in the community.
The federal government dedicated over $13 billion to Native American tribes in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. A guidebook was made specifically for tribal governments to break the law down. In the American Rescue Plan, these sovereign governments were given over $31 billion, which Rivera hopes will alleviate systematic issues within native communities.
Jackson Brossy, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA)
Native people are diverse; we are a growing, sophisticated segment of the population; and we are very much engaged in small business development.
Jackson Brossy, Assistant Administrator of the SBA’s ONAA, presented resources for Native American small business owners and detailed ONAA’s mission. The Navajo nation member was previously an executive director for the Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) Network, a 501(C)(3) advocacy group, and the Navajo Nation Washington Office, the official intergovernmental affairs office for the largest tribe in the U.S.
Brossy reiterated the importance of equity that Rivera discussed earlier and explained how important it is for Native people to have the proper infrastructure investments to do business. “Without that initial investment, there can’t be that small businesses’ cluster growth, so I’m happy about what we’re doing here at the SBA,” Brossy said.
In 2021, the SBA gave out $2.28 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans to Native American entrepreneurs. Additionally, the ONAA funds seven partner organizations that deliver technical assistance to business owners and coordinates with all arms of the SBA to allow native people to access capital, government contracting, and disaster assistance. “Native people are diverse; we are a growing, sophisticated segment of the population; and we are very much engaged in small business development,” Brossy said. Native people want a hand up, not a handout, Brossy adds. He praises SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman for being the first administrator to visit the Navajo nation and for signing the SBA Tribal Consultation Policy of 2022, which directs the agency’s coordination with tribal governments and recognizes the U.S. federal government’s special relationship with Native American governmental entities.
Native American businesses have benefited from the Community Navigator Pilot Program, which is part of the American Rescue Plan to assist underserved entrepreneurs access capital. Thanks to this program, the SBA has more than tripled investment in Native American communities, Brossy said. “In previous years, we had around seven Native American partner organizations. Now we have more than 40,” Brossy adds. He also mentioned that one of the agency’s partners, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED), hosted the Reservation Economic Summit 2022 in May in Las Vegas.
Chris James, President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED)
I am happy to be part of the SBA Council on Underserved Communities and support our tribal communities.
Chris James, president and CEO of the NCAIED, is a member of the Eastern Band Cherokee nation. With offices in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, New York, and other states, the NCAIED has 20 full-time employees, 30 contractors and 2,000 clients throughout North America to expand business opportunities for native people. Since the NCAIED is a partner with the SBA, James knows how Native American entrepreneurs benefit from the agency’s programs.
“I am happy to be part of the SBA Council on Underserved Communities and support our tribal communities,” James said. The NCAIED provides technical assistance and training through the Native Edge Institute. James said that the NCAIED has training once a month, and the next one is on Aug. 25 in New York City, which will focus on accessing capital. These are in-person or virtual learning sessions. The NCAIED also includes Native Edge Finance, an emerging CDFI program that will begin lending in the fall. “We are very excited about that,” James said. James looks forward to the next Reservation Economic Summit, held in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas from April 3-6, 2023. To learn more about the NCAIED, visit their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connecting with ONAA
For more information about the SBA’s ONAA, email ONAA@sba.gov; follow them on social media @SbaNative, and contact Brossy at Jackson.Brossy@sba.gov. You can also reach special assistant Genevieve Borgeson at Genevieve.Borgeson@sba.gov and program assistant Chequita Carter at Chequita.Carter@sba.gov.