WASHINGTON - The National Indian Business Association, or NIBA, has been working for nearly a decade to support and promote Indian business development through education, communication and advocacy.
Founded in 1992, NIBA was established to assist in the advancement of Native business development by providing information, programs, services and activities specifically designed to accommodate the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native business owners, entrepreneurs and governments.
Pete Homer, president and CEO, talks about the current state of Indian business.
"It is Indian business people who are the ones who are looking towards the future. They are many times part of the community's leadership and are looking for ways to improve the standard of living of tribal members," Homer said.
"They are also the force behind the community's success in many ways. When a federal program is successful on a reservation, Indian business is usually involved. Programs like HUD don't always work because there may not be any jobs. Indian business is what is creating jobs and driving the community."
NIBA reports there has been a 35 percent increase over the past two years in the number of tribal businesses which have opened across the country. In the past three years alone, through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the BIA, nearly $380 million in federal funds has been made available for tribal business, but Homer says that is still not enough. NIBA's biggest issue is with federal agencies which have failed to fund national Indian business associations which he says creates jobs.
"Federal agencies only need to realize that targeting and outreaching to Indian communities is justified because these communities have economic problems of high unemployment, under employment and economic depression," Homer said. "The federal government puts millions of dollars into crime prevention on reservations and very little into tribal business development.
"How can you have crime prevention when you don't even have jobs. Federal agencies can fund national associations for services that would create jobs through the development of sustainable business in Indian country and solve many social problems."
Homer says that while federal agencies could do a better job, it is also up to tribal governments to provide some solutions. Tribes like Fort. McDowell in Arizona and Mille Lacs in Minnesota are running programs of their own to provide capital for tribal members who want to open their own businesses.
Some tribes like Viejas in California are buying banks which then offer business loans to tribal members who qualify.
Homer says that increasingly, this is where Indian businesses are finding the capital they need, locally, oftentimes through the tribe.
"At least twelve tribes have bought banks that not only serve their tribal members but also the general public," Homer said. "Tribes are seeing the importance of supporting business development and being actively involved themselves. They have a real stake in the results and a commitment to help the community."
Asked if he has seen any problem with tribal enterprises competing with individual Indian enterprises, Homer says, "Most tribes have made it clear which business they intend to get involved in. These are industries that are many times too large for the private Indian entrepreneur. The small, individual businesses, are rarely affected.
"Tribal governments get involved in things like airports, while private business people mostly get involved in things like convenience stores."
Homer says tribal sovereignty is a major factor in the health of a tribes' local economy. Without the control and ability of the tribe to address specific issues in the community, he says many success stories in Indian country would never have happened.
"Without tribal government support, tribal and individual business would be hurting. Many of the opportunities now available to tribal members as a result of tribal programs and the recent development of tribal and individual enterprises on tribal lands shows how important tribal sovereignty really is."
NIBA is located in Washington, D.C., and is operated by a 22-member board of directors, representing tribally and individually owned enterprises across the country, from small retail operations to large corporations.
It maintains one of the most comprehensive directories of Indian-owned businesses throughout the United States. The database, first published in 1995, contains private Indian businesses, tribal, state and federal agency and Fortune 500 company contacts. It maintains more than 10,000 entries and more than 5,000 private Indian businesses.