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Eleven business entrepreneurs earn Four Times fellowships

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RED LODGE, Mont. - Eleven business entrepreneurs from reservations and pueblos in Montana and New Mexico were named 2000 fellows of the Montana-based Four Times Foundation.

The national nonprofit foundation, established in 1997, makes annual awards of as much as $10,000 each to help tribal members in Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico and Minnesota start new businesses or expand existing ventures.

Executive Director Jael Kampfe said the foundation is the only group in the nation that provides such equity capital to individuals involved in reservation commerce. Without money in savings or another form of initial investment, potential entrepreneurs do not have access to traditional forms of lending nor do they have resources available for start up costs, she said.

Lacking access to equity capital, Indian entrepreneurs struggle to build the economic infrastructure needed for a self-determined future, she says.

"Practicing the belief that people create change, we invest in individuals and direct human resources and financial capital to them, knowing that their success will be passed on four times," adds foundation program officer Gerald Sherman.

"In a world where Indian country and mainstream America is largely separate, Four Times Foundation serves as a bridge, guided by Indian values, to lessen the gap between people and to increase sharing and giving."

So far, the Four Times Foundation is targeting the Blackfeet and Northern Cheyenne tribes in Montana, the Rosebud Lakota in South Dakota, the White Earth Ojibwe in Minnesota, and the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. Other tribes and reservations may be added in the future, Kampfe says.

Along with the initial financial investment, Kampfe says, fellows attend a national conference to meet other Indian entrepreneurs. They also receive intensive financial and business training, in part through a mentor program that partners fellows with other business owners to solve problems and to help ensure that Native culture and values are integrated into business plans.

Technical assistance and on-site monitoring are also provided to help the businesses grow.

"A Lakota understands that you give what you have freely, knowing in time it will come back to you four times over," says Albert White Hat, a Native language instructor at Rosebud's Sinte Gleska University and the group's board president. "And when you receive a gift, you know you need to return the gift four times what was given to you."