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MINOT, S.D. — Strengthen ND, a community development organization focused on supporting nonprofits and rural North Dakota communities, has secured federal grant funding to help the state’s five Native nations foster entrepreneurship and economic diversification. 

The nonprofit’s Building Native Enterprises initiative will work with the state’s five federally recognized American Indian tribes — the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Spirit Lake Nation, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation, and the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation — to build economic development strategies that prioritize Native-led startups and existing businesses, especially ones that cater to the state’s tourism and travel industry.
Strengthen ND cited data indicating that the tourism industry is the state’s third largest economic driver. Native-led companies in that sector could include scenic tours and arts and culture retail enterprises. 

The Building Native Enterprises initiative received more than $64,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via its Rural Business Development Grant program. A funding match from Strengthen ND brought the total investment in the Building Native Enterprises program to nearly $91,000. 

Strengthen ND Executive Director Megan Laudenschlager said the program builds on the organization’s efforts to better understand how it can support North Dakota’s tribal communities. To work with Native entrepreneurs, nonprofits and Tribal governments, Strengthen ND hired  Stacey LaCompte earlier this year to serve in the Indigenous communications and tribal advocate role.

“Through this work, a gap was identified for technical assistance for Tribal communities, along with a need for greater understanding for non-Native individuals of how to work cross-culturally,” Laudenschlager told Tribal Business News via email. “It is through this recognition that we put together the proposal to receive a USDA Rural Business Development Grant.”

Under the Building Native Enterprises initiative, Strengthen ND will work directly with Native entrepreneurs, tribal economic development organizations, and tribal governments. The effort will focus on developing strategies to support entrepreneurs and economic development,  providing customized one-on-one technical assistance, and increasing the ability of non-Native individuals to work effectively and equitably with North Dakota's Native nations, Laudenschlager said.

Ultimately, the goal with the programming is for the state’s tribal communities to “create a more sustainable economy,” according to LaCompte. 

Strengthen ND views the program as a way to help the tribes and tribal communities diversify their economies and contribute to their broader regional economies and be in a better position to deal with economic downturns. 

LaCompte said the organization will work on relationship-building between Native and non-Native agencies “to build a bridge of communication in education and awareness.” 

Strengthen ND plans to focus its tribal economic development efforts both on and off the reservations and work with partners to provide needed resources to build tribal capacity around entrepreneurism. 

“We are so excited to see the impact of this project as it unfolds,” Laudenschlager said.