Our Programs: Native American Business Development

Native American Business Development

To create systemic economic change, First Nations Development Institute works with Native American communities in reclaiming direct control of their assets. Working directly with grassroots community partners, individuals and tribes, First Nations Development Institute supports and provides Native asset development strategies and models to help communities understand, create and control the way in which Native assets are valued, as well as the decision making process in deciding whether to monetize those assets.

First Nations, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, work with reservation and rural Indian communities to create and support community development financial institutions, Native businesses and tribal programs with early stage investments and capitalization to stimulate business growth through new financial models, products and services. Through entrepreneurship and business development projects targeted at both the tribal (macro) and individual (micro) levels, First Nations Development Institute creates and supports sustainable economic development in Native communities.

Current Projects

Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI)

About the NACBI

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) works to build healthy economies in Indian Country based on strategies that emphasize Native communities controlling their assets of production. Today, there is an unprecedented opportunity to increase market opportunities and access among artists in Native communities by helping position them to produce, market and sell their art while at the same time supporting art as an integral cultural asset in Native communities.

First Nations believes that Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs represent key institutional assets of tribes and play an essential role in supporting the field of Native arts and artists who are striving for economic self-sufficiency and cultural preservation. First Nations established the NATIVE ARTS CAPACITY BUILDING INITIATIVE (NACBI) in 2014 with the goal of increasing the organizational, managerial and programmatic capacity of these Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs in an effort to enhance their long-term sustainability and stability as they work to meet the needs of their constituent artists. The NACBI is supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters.


NACBI Funding Opportunities

In October 2014, First Nations kicked off its inaugural NACBI grantmaking cycle, awarding six grants to Native arts capacity building programs in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, for a total of $180,000. First Nations will award additional Native arts capacity building grants in 2015 and 2016.

In addition to the organizational and programmatic capacity building grants under the NACBI, First Nations will award several mini-grants to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and Native arts markets in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota in early 2015 to support professional development of leadership and staff. Grant recipients will be able to utilize the mini-grants to attend professional development meetings, conferences and other trainings.

NACBI-funded projects cover a variety of areas, including developing Native artists’ business skills, art gallery revitalization efforts, creating sustainable business and marketing plans for grantee organizations, establishing Artists Divisions within grantee organizations to bolster the organizational focus on art entrepreneurs, developing and implementing reservation-wide arts marketing programs, receiving grantwriting and other fundraising training to better position organizations to expand their revenue base, and attending national arts conferences and trainings to expand grantee organizations’ networks and opportunities.

NACBI Grantee Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities

Besides direct project funding, First Nations provides NACBI grantees with one-on-one technical assistance based on their needs identified in First Nations’ Capacity Assessment Tool. Grantees will also receive scholarships to attend one of two small regional capacity building trainings in 2015. Finally, grantees will have the opportunity to send a representative from their organizations to participate in First Nations’ annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference. First Nations will be holding its 20th Annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference September 23-24, 2015, at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico (pre-conference sessions for NACBI grantees will begin on September 22). The conference is a key part of the L.E.A.D. Institute (Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development program), and is an intensive learning, mentoring and networking event for emerging and existing leaders and staff members of Native nonprofits, tribal government programs, and philanthropic professionals.

2014 NACBI Grantees

Native Asset-Building Partnership Project

First Nations Development Institute launched the Native Asset-Building Partnership Project (NABPP) to help tribes develop tools and infrastructure for control of their assets. The NABPP is geared to strengthen tribal institutions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota through peer learning and model development that will lead to improved control and management of assets for the benefit of Native communities and individuals. First Nations' goal is to foster partnerships between tribes and allow them to share best practices for asset stewardship and management.

In 2012, First Nations received grant support to help develop and facilitate two partnerships between (1) the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Hopi Tribe, and (2) the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Spokane Tribe, in order to strengthen the tribal infrastructure through peer learning and model development.  The partnerships are based on a mentor-mentee relationship model where one tribe with an established program model assists another tribe in developing a similar program in their tribal community.  In the first partnership, the Hopi tribe will share best practices with the Oneida Nation for developing infrastructure to establish an endowment fund. In the second partnership, the Mille Lacs Band will work with the Spokane tribe to build on human capital so Mille Lacs can improve its natural resource division and engage the community with this division. The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Otto Bremer Foundation.

The Department of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Sovereign Power Inc. have both brought different expertise and experience to this partnership, which has focused on alternative energy development, including wind and solar and various forest management practices. In 2010, representatives from this partnership held their third annual meeting on the Mille Lacs reservation in Onamia, Minnesota. The main topic of discussion was woody biofuel production, taking into consideration that biomass power is the largest source of renewable energy. Woody biomass consists of trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment, and that are the by-products of forest management. Discussion at this meeting focused on the necessary steps for woody biomass production, including business approaches and cultural considerations to making biomass production work on Indian lands. 

Tribal College-CDFI Collaboration Project

In 2012, First Nations received a grant to form partnerships between tribal colleges and local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in two communities.  This project will pilot in the two tribal communities of the Lummi Nation, located in Washington, and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.  The tribal colleges, Northwest Indian College and the College of the Menominee Nation, will provide business and entrepreneurship-focused training for tribal college students.  Students who have completed the training will be encouraged and eligible for business start-up or expansion loans from the CDFIs.  The intention is to promote the growth of private-sector business development in Indian Country.  The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Kellogg Michigan Tribal Assets Outreach Project

First Nations hosted a regional convening in 2012 to introduce the 11 Michigan tribes to the benefits of integrated asset-building and the potential for a tribal asset-building coalition. Asset-building plans will be developed to serve the tribes and moved forward to strengthen Native family economic security in Michigan. Having assets can help Native families get through financial emergencies, plan for the future, and create opportunities for their children.

Private Equity for Native Small Business Development

One of the biggest road blocks to business development in Native American communities is the lack of capital (debt or equity) for small, emerging businesses. To address this problem, First Nations Development Institute partnered with the Ewing & Marion Kauffman Foundation to explore the creation of a private equity vehicle to address the shortage of high-risk, start-up, and/or working capital for emerging and growing small businesses in Indian Country. Through this project, First Nations is identifying an appropriate equity structure, as well as the scalability and replication of a venture capital-like fund for Indian Country. The project will result in the creation of regional, state, and/or tribal affiliate group models that serve both reservation-based and urban Indian entrepreneurs.

Faces and Stories of Native Economic Development: A Profile on Dana Bumgarner

Dana Bumgarner, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian reservation in Oregon and owner of Cayuse Country Flowers & Gifts, has loved flowers all of her life. It has been her dream to work with them and share her passion for this art right in her own community. She started her floral gift shop in 2006 on the Umatilla reservation to provide fresh cut flowers, floral arrangements, plants, gift baskets, and other gift items to individuals and businesses. She originally began working out of her home, but with her success over the past few years, she has expanded to additional space on the reservation. Dana is a self-taught florist, and she designs her floral arrangements and gifts by listening to the needs of her clients.

In 2010, Dana decided to enter the ONABEN business plan competition titled "Innovations in Indianpreneurship", which is a business development process, competition, and showcase for Native entrepreneurs. After the rigorous competition, Dana was awarded first place and received a monetary award sponsored by First Nations Development Institute to help support the growth and expansion of her business. She plans to open a new shop on the Umatilla reservation soon with the expansion of tribal enterprises. It is Native business owners like Dana who give us hope for the continued growth of economic sovereignty in Indian Country.

Watch a short video on the ONABEN competition and see Dana win her award.

First Nations Oweesta Corporation

In order to focus on the capitalization and development of emerging Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the board of directors of First Nations Development Institute incorporated First Nations Oweesta Corporation as a wholly owned subsidiary in 1999. The organization's sound stewardship directly contributed to the rapid development of certified Native CDFIs. For more than 10 years, Oweesta has been part of some 200 total awards to the Native institutions, totaling tens of millions of dollars in fruitful investment in Indian Country. Oweesta focuses on CDFI development by offering expert training and customized follow-up assistance, and by providing loans to qualifying organizations, enabling them to reinvest the capital back into their communities.

Please visit First Nations Oweesta's website here.