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Three innovative econ dev initiatives in Native American communities
Eli Dile   on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Tribal regions face some of the steepest economic and geographic hurdles of any North American communities, yet offer plenty of examples of inventive, home-grown approaches to wealth-building. Shared here are three programs promoting entrepreneurship, local food systems, and use of new technology.

The Navajo Nation – located near the four corners in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – is subject to the ups and downs of extractive industries, including mining, oil, and gas. To diversify its economy, the nation established a $20 million entrepreneurship fund to encourage new ventures and legitimize informal enterprises (Yes Magazine). Engaging native entrepreneurs in this part of the country is challenged by poor telecommunications and the fact that many individuals do business without registering. The nation has made progress reaching isolated areas and formalizing operations; still, turning business owners with little equity and assets into property owners remains a challenge.

Lack of capital, geographic isolation, and limited infrastructure mean many indigenous communities must rely on externally produced goods and services. Food is no exception. Food as Economic Development in Native Communities (PDF), a report from the First Nations Development Institute, profiles projects in three Minnesota tribes to regain ownership of their local food systems and support agribusiness. The report discusses lessons learned in strategic planning, developing partnerships, and generating community buy-in to strengthen native food systems.

On the topic of food, remote native communities often are subject to exorbitant prices for groceries and basic goods, which have to be shipped in at a premium. But new technology may soon enable residents of isolated regions to keep more of their earnings. Drone Delivery Canada is a company experimenting with transporting groceries and medicine to far north First Nations using unmanned aircraft (CBC). The company and the Moose Cree First Nation in northern Ontario have partnered on a pilot (or pilotless) program to fly goods in via drone. Initial flights will carry packages of 4.5 kilograms (about 10 pounds), but other drone models can transport payloads 50 times that weight.

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