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Growing Economies Through SEEDS

Photo of Administration of Native Americans Commissioner Lillian Sparks

By Lillian Sparks, Commissioner of the Administration of Native Americans

As the Commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans, I am charged with promoting the goals of economic and social self-sufficiency for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Native American Pacific Islanders.  For nearly 40 years, ANA has been investing in Native American communities, and we have seen many positive results, but we still have a long way to go.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native (alone) have a poverty rate far higher than the national average (29.1 percent versus 15.9 percent in 2012). Many of our families are surviving with assistance from ACF programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or Child Care assistance.  However, we are committed to assisting Tribes and other Native American communities move beyond these necessary safety nets and provide opportunities for employment through the creation of jobs, training and business development.

With the effects of the recent recession disproportionately impacting Native Americans, we wanted to do more at ANA to support the efforts of Tribes and Native communities to grow their economies with an emphasis on job creation and business development.  We are proud to have recently created a special funding initiative, Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Strategies (SEEDS), that provides more funding per year for more years in order to make a deeper more significant investment.  Here are a couple examples of what these projects will accomplish.

Photo of Maple Trees with buckets collecting syrup. Image credit: Anika Salsera, 123RF.The Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine created an economic development project to tap into a traditional resource: maple syrup. They own 65,000 acres in northern Maine where the predominant tree species are rock and sugar maple. Until now they have lacked the funding to purchase equipment and pay staff to operate and market their product. They hope to eventually grow Passamaquoddy Maple Syrup Ventures into a multi-million dollar enterprise that hires locals year-round and seasonally in addition to reinvesting profits into tribal services.

Another example comes from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin. One barrier to economic development facing the Bad River Tribe in is the absence of high-speed broadband internet on the reservation and in the tribally designated service area, as well as outdated local cellular service that lacks the ability to provide mobile data transmission. The lack of connectivity creates a significant obstacle for budding entrepreneurs who need to buy and sell goods online or quickly compare prices when purchasing raw materials.

To address this gap, the Bad River Tribe plans to launch their own telecommunications company, Bad River Superior Connections, within the first 18 months of the grant to provide local and reliable high speed telecommunications. In addition to helping to bridge the digital divide, Bad River Superior Connections will keep money in the local community rather than sending checks to out-of-state corporations.

Each project has a ceiling of $500,000 and a maximum project length of five years.  SEEDS projects must measure at least of the following outcomes:

  • Full-time jobs created
  • Number of Native Americans employed
  • Number of businesses created or expanded
  • Revenues generated

From Maine to Guam, ANA has now funded 15 projects under this special initiative, and the other projects commonly focus on job training and job placement in specific fields such as green jobs, home care aids, or hospitality, or they are intended to build the capacity of local service providers that are assisting small business grow and first time entrepreneurs gain the skills necessary to launch a successful business. 

Every year ANA provides over $40 million in competitive grants to Native American communities across the United States and in the Pacific territories in the areas of social and economic development, native language preservation and maintenance and environmental regulatory enhancement. To learn more about ANA, visit our website.

Lillian Sparks, a Lakota woman of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes, is the Commissioner of the Administration of Native Americans.  Miss Sparks was confirmed by the United States Senate as the Commissioner on March 3, 2010, and was sworn in on March 5, 2010.  She has devoted her career to supporting the educational pursuits of Native American students, protecting the rights of indigenous people, and empowering tribal communities.

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