Federal development funds will let Oklahoma tribes expand access to capital

The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp., along with the Osage and Chickasaw nations, are set to get around $30 million in federal funding to help improve small tribal businesses’ access to capital. (Photo by Garett Fisbeck/Courtesy Citizen Potawatomi Nation)

WASHINGTON – Three Oklahoma tribal nations will receive more than 40% of the initial $73 million in funding from a federal small business initiative that for the first time is being targeted directly to tribes.

The Osage, Chickasaw and Citizen Potawatomi nations will get almost $30 million in small business funding from the State Small Business Credit Initiative, the Biden administration announced last week. The program, part of the pandemic-era American Rescue Plan, aims to improve small business financing.

“Far too often, entrepreneurs and small business owners with big plans and a vision for the future struggle simply because they lack the capital or financial services they need,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a June 26 White House event to announce the funding. “That’s why we are making this historic investment, which will help tribal communities grow their small businesses, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

The Treasury Department said 39 tribal governments would share in the first round of funding. No Arizona tribes were on the list.

All three Oklahoma nations said they plan to use the funds to create or expand programs the increase access to capital for small businesses.

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Cindy Logsden, CEO of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp., said the funding will help many tribal small business owners with money needed to make investments into their companies.

“It’s recognizing the tribes as equal to state entities and recognizing our sovereignty,” Logsden said. “It means more dollars to the state of Oklahoma. Hopefully we are making more sustainable businesses and families at the end of the day.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp. will receive $8.1 million from the federal government to help its efforts to lend to more entrepreneurs, she said.

“It’s access to capital that otherwise – individuals, that Native family, that Native business – probably would not be able to (access),” Logsden said.

“We do a lot more hand-holding than a bank would do. We think outside of the box – if we don’t have enough collateral, ‘Could we get the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) insurance?’” she said. “Because we aren’t regulated like a bank is, we could be normal or creative in assisting Native Americans in getting access to capital.”

The Citizen Potawatamie have had a program that lends to small businesses for 20 years. Logsden said they have have loaned around $125 million to several small businesses.

The Osage Nation, which will receive $5.2 million, is just getting a lending program started. Candy Thomas, Osage director of self-governance and strategic planning, said the tribe plans to use the federal money to build two programs to better help tribal small businesses.

They’re developing an equity fund alongside a capital fund program, which is designed to lend money to small businesses with a focus on Osage people, but any Native American is eligible.

“We can’t just say it’s for Osages. We have a (Community Development Financial Institution) that’s being set up and we can’t specify a population in that like ‘just Osages,’” Thomas said. “That’s where we are. It’s been going on for a long-time and it keeps changing when they change the guidelines and change the allocation amount.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp. helped arrange funding for the loan that allowed Shawnee Cleaners and Linen to rebuild after a disastrous fire. (Photo courtesy Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp.)

“It’s highly satisfying to know we are being recognized and able to provide these kinds of services to our population,” Thomas said. “Traditionally, Native Americans don’t have good credit scores. Banks would even turn them down because they’re Native American or they don’t have everything they’re looking for.

“We’re very excited about this and that it will work hand-in-hand with our (community development financial institution),” she said.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement that the tribe will split the $16 million it is receiving into two programs – a collateral support program, designed to provide funds for tribal members who might not have enough collateral to secure a loan, and a venture capital program.

“Access to capital is vital for small business success, and the Chickasaw Nation is grateful to be partnering with the U.S. Treasury,” Anoatubby said in the statement. “Delivering these vital programs to underserved small business owners is key to fulfilling the Chickasaw Nation’s mission to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.”

Cronkite News is partnering with Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications, to expand coverage of Indigenous communities.