The Main Street Montana Project sets clear priorities to increase capital and encourage growth of existing businesses throughout the tribal nations.
As diverse as our big skies, rolling prairies and majestic mountains, Native Americans are part of Montana’s spirit and culture. They are also part of our economy. Today, 12 Tribal Nations call Montana home. Eleven of these nations reside within the seven reservations, while the Little Shell Band of the Chippewa seeks federal recognition for a land base of its own. The tribes retain powers of self-governance, making decisions that affect their economies both separate from and in concert with the state. Outside reservation boundaries, there are thousands of enrolled members of the 12 nations living in Montana and those in other states. In addition, many Native Americans living on and off-reservation are not enrolled members in a tribe. The 2010 U.S. Census shows the Native American population is increasing in urban, off-reservation areas.
The Main Street Montana Project Indian Country survey included information from Native Americans and non-Native residents living on and off the reservation. In Indian Country, basic themes emerged similar to the rest of the state. Participants in the survey, the roundtables and one-on-one conversations focused on the importance of education, the need for a business-friendly climate, ideas for marketing what makes us unique, and a call for innovation and expanding our economy. The five pillars apply to Indian Country as to other communities within the state.
Participants viewed education as the greatest asset for promoting economic strength in Indian Country. Tribal colleges are a source of economic opportunity and cultural learning, with potential for contributing even more. There are a number of programs in place to help prepare students for college and work. These programs need additional support to increase graduation rates and college preparation. Improving coordination between tribal colleges and the state university system will help students transfer between the two systems, opening up more learning opportunities. Businesses also need tribal workforce training programs that include technical skills and on-the-job training. Fostering work-readiness skills and mentoring efforts will help workers and their employers succeed. Programs that focus on culturally appropriate entrepreneurial skills, managerial skills and financial literacy are in depend and will help prospective business owners get started and be successful over time.
In Indian Country, Main Street participants set clear priorities to increase capital and encourage growth of existing businesses. Increase promotion of programs such as the Montana Indian Equity Fund and the State Tribal Economic Development Commission (STEDC), Native Community Financial Institutions and tribal revolving loan funds will increase access to capital for Indian businesses. The STEDC strategic plan includes directives to connect businesses to programs that offer technical assistance and recruit businesses to locate in reservation communities. Implementing these strategies will also help prepare businesses to be competitive and grow. Increasing the infrastructure capacity, including broadband, is also a high priority.
Legal and cultural barriers between Native-owned businesses and lenders can be identified and addressed. Tribal Nations and their members are increasingly interacting commercially with lenders and businesses outside of reservations. Tribal Nations have the opportunity to strengthen their sovereignty by adopting the Model Secured Transaction Act to simplify transactions and increase access to affordable credit. The State of Montana can collaborate and support economic development efforts with tribes, incorporating the Montana Brand where appropriate, and highlighting the reservations’ unique strengths, including cultural resources, the arts, and the Tribes’ large land base.
A barrier to economic growth in Indian Country cited by participants is a lack of understanding by companies with regard to doing business on reservations. One way to address this is to ask the STEDC to provide ambassadors to communicate and advocate with private interests, helping business owners make use of the unique opportunities for doing business on Montana’s reservations.