We’re living in historic times for Indian Country – and, despite the heavy news coverage, it goes far beyond the name of the professional football team that calls our nation’s capital home.
Two weeks ago, President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota – only the third visit to a reservation by a sitting president. While in North Dakota, Obama pledged to continue and expand his administration’s work to create new economic opportunities, improve Indian schools, and address critical health issues on reservations and across Indian Country.
And this week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing to discuss how we encourage investment in Indian Country – a hearing in which I am honored to participate. Significantly, the hearing is occurring during the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s (National Center) Reservation Economic Summit in Washington, DC (RES DC).
Through RES DC, the National Center seeks to bring Indian Country to our nation’s capital to expand business opportunities, entrepreneurship, and provide networking opportunities with leaders in government, business, and tribes. Though this is our first conference in DC, RES is the largest and longest-running American Indian business event in the country.
In addition to great speakers and presenters from across many government agencies and leaders in top corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and the Nova Corporation, we are announcing the launch of our online business development and training initiative, the National Center Edge portal.
The National Center Edge initiative will provide 24/7 online access and training to Indian Country across the fields of entrepreneurship, small business, emerging markets, business development, and much more. We are very excited about what this initiative will mean for the advancement of American Indian businesses and the development of future entrepreneurs.
The National Center and its programs and services seek to alleviate a very real challenge among our people. Native American poverty rates far outpace the national average, exceeding 60 percent in some areas. High poverty leads to myriad other issues that plague our communities.
We believe that economic opportunity is the way out of poverty. While self-reliance has always been important across Indian Country, there are certainly ways the federal government can assist in our efforts to create good jobs and opportunity for American Indians.
In fact, the administration recently announced several new initiatives to improve the economic situation for Native Americans and Native American businesses through some of the very agencies who are represented at this week’s conference.
The USDA will host a “Made in Rural America” forum this fall as a way to expand export opportunities for Native-owned businesses. In addition to pledging to link Native American businesses with government assistance programs, The Small Business Administration’s Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME) provides assistance to low-income entrepreneurs who lack sufficient training and education to gain access to capital to establish and expand their small businesses – many of them Native American-owned. In addition, the Department of Interior has pledged to fully implement the Buy Indian Act to increase procurement purchases by Native-owned small businesses by 10 percent.
Congress can get involved, too, by taking appropriate steps to ensure that the Buy Indian Act is fully enforced. We also hope that Congress follows through on its commitment and fully funds the Office of Native American Business Development within the Department of Commerce.
We have seen marked progress for Indian Country over the last several years, and the President deserves praise for his creation of the White House Council on Native American Affairs and convening annual White House Tribal Nations Conferences. It’s not a stretch to say that our nation-to-nation relationship with the White House has never been stronger.
But there is still more to be done to ensure that “every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead,” as the President said prior to his visit to the reservation. Native American business owners and entrepreneurs stand ready to partner and lead in this effort.
Davis is president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.