The U.S. Department of Agriculture remains a viable source of economic development and housing money for American Indians.
In the past several months USDA has allocated nearly $6 million, $4.3 million to go to 27 tribes or groups in 14 states for economic development, and $1.3 million to support housing at five tribes.
The largest of the grants, at nearly $1 million, was for the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota to convert the tribal mini-mall into rental space for Native entrepreneurs. The business incubator money comes from the agency’s Rural Business Development Grant program.
The RBDG grants range from the $973,000 for Spirit Lake to a $20,000 grant for Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico to provide agribusiness planning for five business ventures.
One tribe has received two RBDG grants. The Nez Perce of Idaho were allocated a total of $268,000 for two projects: to buy and equip a greenhouse to produce and sell native plants and seeds, and to buy equipment to produce canola-based biodiesel.
Three Paiute tribes, the Burns Paiute in Oregon and the Cedar and Kanosh bands of Utah Paiute, received separate small grants totaling about $100,000. The money will go towards small business training, a feasibility study for a travel plaza, and improvements to an RV park.
The second-largest grant, for $500,000, was awarded to the San Carlos Apache Tribe Relending Enterprise in Arizona. The money will be used to provide business loans for members of the tribe.
Other projects allocated funds include one for a vineyard and winery business (Yavapai Apache Nation of Arizona), one to establish a foreign trade zone on the reservation of the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota, and one to buy and equip greenhouses for nurseries and beekeeping at the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma.
The Muscogee greenhouse project is seen as creating 90 jobs, while the White Earth foreign trade zone is projected to create 30 jobs.
The five housing grants from USDA’s Mutual Self Help program went to tribes in Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Washington.
The largest grant was for $300,000 for the Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. to build 12 houses on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota.
The next biggest one, for $292,000, was to the Spokane Indian Housing Authority in Stevens County, Washington, to provide assistance to 11 tribal members who plan to build homes.
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in Wisconsin received $289,000 to help tribal members build 10 homes, just after receiving a USDA Tribal College Initiative grant of $168,000 to expand the Sustainable Agriculture Research Station at the tribal college. That project will provide a kitchen at the facility and will allow for better post-harvest handling of produce.
USDA has awarded $3.4 million of the housing self-help grants to tribes to date to build 200 new homes. Under the program, participants have to provide 65 percent of the construction labor on their houses.