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Investing in Tribal Economies

ANA Commissioner Lillian Sparks Robinson speaking at a RES 2014 session.By Lillian Sparks Robinson, Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans

I recently attended the 28th Annual Reservation Economic Summit (RES 2014), hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development,  to present on the important topic of investing in economic development in Indian Country.

For the first presentation, I was joined by John Echohawk, the founder and executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation, and Carly Hare, the executive director for Native Americans in Philanthropy

This panel focused on strategies to attract investors for economic development projects. Data on how much private foundation investment was shared and attendees discussed their challenges in attracting the interest of foundations. Some of the key challenges include how to build relationships with foundation staff and how to attract their interest in reservation-based projects. This is a challenge that ANA is very interested in helping native communities address.

The second event was an overview of ANA’s mission, training and technical assistance available, as well as funding for economic development, including two special initiatives that have begun during my tenure as commissioner for ANA. The Native Asset Building Initiative provides funding to community based organizations to build financial capability skills in individuals as well as to assist them in saving for assets such as starting a small business, pursuing higher education, or purchasing a home through individual development accounts.  ANA is partnering with the Office of Community Services to provide two grants for each project awarded, which can help more Tribal communities participate in this complex but transformative program. Our NABI applications will be open later this spring.

Our other new economic development opportunity is the Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Strategies (SEEDS) grant.  It represents a significant investment of ANA resources into job and business creation for Native American communities.  We were at RES 2014 to promote this competition, which is in its second year.  In addition to longer projects of up to five years, ANA will be providing enhanced technical assistance and partnering with other federal agencies that support economic development to help ensure that these projects are a success. Both presentation rooms were full, demonstrating both the high need and interest in these topics.

It was great to see some of ANA’s current and past grantees at the summit, working to develop and expand their businesses and the positive impacts they are having for reservation economies. InterTribal Buffalo Council, Migizi Communications, and the Native American Development Corporation were just a few of the current ANA grantees that had booths at RES. Events like this provide an important venue for networking with potential business partners and investors, an opportunity that many small businesses or tribal enterprises would not have otherwise.

I want to thank our host Gary Davis, president and CEO of National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, for providing us a great platform to share dialogue at RES 2014. Davis shared with me: "The participation by ANA and dozens of other federal agencies, as well as members of the U.S. Congress, Fortune 500 Corporations, Tribal Nations, Alaska Native Corporations, Canadian First Nations, Tribal Enterprises and American Indian small businesses and entrepreneurs made National RES Las Vegas 2014 one of our highest attended and most successful RES events to date!"

ANA’s current grant opportunities for this year will be closing April 15th, and I am looking forward to learning more about the smart, creative, and exciting projects that we will be investing in this year.


Lillian Sparks Robinson, 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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