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Oweesta introduces entrepreneur training program

RAPID CITY, S.D. - For more than 20 years, First Nations Oweesta Corp. has worked diligently to spur programs that encourage entrepreneurship by providing capital, credit and financial education resources to Natives living on reservations.

One of the primary goals of Oweesta is to help Native communities start their own Capital Development Financial Institutions that provide entrepreneurs loans and resources to open up a business on their reservation.

Yet, in order to keep up with technological advances in a rapidly changing society, Oweesta provides training and seminars on a variety of areas to help keep CDFIs and supporting organizations on the cutting edge.

To start the New Year with fresh concepts, Oweesta has introduced the Native Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Development training program. The program aims to provide intensive three-day training to not only promote entrepreneurship, but to provide technical assistance after the training program both online and onsite.

The first training takes place at the Morongo Casino Resort Spa in Cabazon, Calif., Jan. 29 - 31. ;'It's for any Native CDFI that is developing, merging, or has already established themselves and wants to integrate entrepreneurship into the work they provide to their community,'' said Jody Sarkozy-Banoczy, development and communications officer.

Tracey Fischer, manager of institution development and an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, said the Jan. 4 application deadline has passed, but there is still time to enroll in the training program at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center in Denver, Feb. 26 - 28. Registration deadline is Feb. 4.

Fischer said these first two NEED programs are considered pilot programs, and likely the beginning of ongoing training. The January training will start with three to four representatives from 10 Native communities, and will jump to 20 communities for the February training.

The formula for the program came on the heels of a study on how to develop Native entrepreneurship in Indian country facilitated by the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona, she said.

From there, Oweesta partnered with Oregon Native American Business & Entrepreneurial Network and Corporation for Enterprise Development to combine curricula to offer the best training available.

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For example, Oweesta tapped ONABEN's curriculum titled, ''Indianpreneurship - A Native American Journey Into Business.''

After the training, Oweesta's Web site provides trainees with a resource room and five days of technical assistance. Consultants actually go onsite to help in just about any area in which trainees need assistance.

''It could be a trainer going to meet with tribal governments or sitting down and helping them with their accounting system, or whatever is needed,'' Fischer said.

For nearly a decade, the U.S. Treasury Department has earmarked funds to encourage CDFIs on reservations through its Native Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

In mid-December, Congress approved $8 million to support these institutions, almost double the funds in recent years, Fischer noted. ''The Department of Treasury is really a big proponent of entrepreneurship in Indian country,'' she said. ''They see that it really works.''

CDFIs commonly provide low interest loans for small business startups and homes. Fischer said some of the lenders provide payday advances to discourage Natives from dealing with high-interest predatory lenders. ''In general, CDFI loans default less than traditional banks because they address issues before the loan is even made,'' she said.

She also said that the research market analysis and financial education that CDFI lenders provide to their clients is what separates them from traditional banks.

''A lot of Native people have never learned that kind of knowledge on financial literacy, let alone business planning and doing a market analysis,'' she said. ''It's a different world, and when you walk into a bank you are expected to have a certain kind of knowledge.''

The name Oweesta comes from the Mohawk word for ''money.''

The three-day training costs $25, and attendees must pay for all travel, hotel and food expenses. Contact Fischer at (605) 342-3770 or tracey@oweesta.org. For information on other dates and locations, or to download an application, visit www.oweesta.org.