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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Fifty small businesses in California were clueless about how much money the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians were going to give them. It was a big surprise of $20,000 each.

Tribal Chairman Ken Ramirez broke the news to the business owners in a livestream event and said he aspires that it will encourage others to help businesses.

“I hope that what we do here today prompts others to do the same, which is support our local businesses, give as much as you can … to keep our communities thriving,” he said.

Tansu Philip, owner of the cafe Viva La Boba in San Bernardino, California, said she was surprised by the amount of money they received, and so far have caught up on their payroll, fixed a broken door and plan to host more community events in the future.

“Once the COVID regulations have shifted a little, we’re going to be able to do a lot more,” Philip said. “Usually, we host pop-ups, community clean-ups, tea tastings, just more events to outreach to the community.”

The tribe and the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, a non-profit organization, pre-selected the businesses in San Bernardino County due to the devastating economic impact from the pandemic.

“Some sectors have been disproportionately affected, namely accommodation, food service, health care, social assistance industries, have seen the most job[s] lost and number of hours of work decreased,” Paul Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, said.

(Related: ‘Help is on the way? Depends on the type of small business’)

Another recipient of the donation, Jovanna Rodriguez, owner of Jovi’s Diner for nine years, said they have been open for limited hours, and gradually let all their employees go by September last year. She and her husband have been the only ones working since.

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“Now we can bring them back and just keep our business going because we were so uncertain of how we were going to do it, if we were going to stay in business,” she said.

Rodriguez said she knows many of the other businesses who were helped and is thankful that the tribe thought of them.

“We were extremely grateful because we needed it. Just really happy that I was able to share that with 50 other small businesses in San Bernardino,” she said.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians said they wanted to give the money to practice Yawa’, which means “that acts on one’s beliefs” in Serrano.

“As we grew and found ways to independently sustain ourselves, we never lost sight of our Yawa’ as we found ourselves in a position to bring aid to the community that once helped us,” Audrey Martinez, business committee member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said.

Tribal Secretary Johnny Hernandez said businesses were selected based on:

  • Businesses who implemented COVID-safe practices through social distancing, mask wearing and sanitization.
  • Businesses who took part in the San Bernardino County’s COVID-compliant Business Partnership Program in 2020.
  • Businesses located near tribal lands and ancestral lands in the mountains and high desert.
  • Businesses hit the hardest.
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Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at Benallie was once the opening act for a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas.

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