Small businesses in and around the Blackfeet Reservation now have access to a little more help. This week, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended support to a Native American community development group, to make “micro-loans” to boost the local economy.
Paulette Matt runs Real People Herbals out of her house, selling traditional foods, herbal teas, soaps, and various healing remedies. She says she didn’t have the money to expand her business by herself.
"With the $10,000 loan loan I got, I will be able to get the tins and the boxes. I think it is going to be worth it. My dream is that in a couple years I will be able to hire other people to help me. It will be a good thing to do to in a way, boost our economy and to pass something else to someone younger."
Small businesses loans for entrepreneurs with no or bad credit, are really hard to get.
Gary Racine was shot down by banks in Glacier County with his idea of buying R Snack Shop in Cut Bank. Racine wanted to expand the menu and the hours of operation. After being deemed too high of a risk for a bank business loan, he found Native American Community Development Corporation Financial Services, know as NACDC Financial Services. He spoke at a NACDC event in Browning.
"All in all I think this program here since I found out about it and got started with it, it’s a good way for small businesses and Indian people to a good start."
NACDC Financial Services has been giving out micro loans of $5,000 or $10,000 since 2011. Lately, the group has been giving out small business loans.
In the past, NACDC Financial Services’ money has come from the non-profit groups Indian Land Tenure Foundation, and First Nations Oweesta. NACDC Financial Services borrowed money from those groups, then loaned it back out to the community.
Now, they’re getting help from U.S. Department Agriculture. USDA has been doing this kind of thing in Montana since 2010.
Last week, the agency marked its micro lending debut in Montana’s Indian country with a small ceremony at NACDC’s office, in Browning.
USDA State Director of Rural Development Anthony Preite awarded the check of a $125,000 to NACDC Executive Director Angie Main.
"We plan to expand all over Montana, but we’re taking baby steps. And this is our baby step so thank you, thank you," said Main.
According to the United States Census Bureau 33 percent of Glacier County lives in poverty. That’s more than twice the state and nation percentage.
The median household income in Glacier County is around $46,000. That's more than $10,000 less than the Montana average.
Money in Browning doesn’t stay in Browning, says USDA’s Preite. This micro lending program aims at fixing that.
"There are a lot of dollars but the vast majority of the funds don’t circulate once. And they’re often gone to other areas. And of course what we’re hoping for is to build sustainable business that will have people coming in time and time again and circulating the money so that the community and the people in the community will benefit from it."
Preite says poverty rates in Glacier Country and the Browning area need to be lowered.
"And the best way to fight poverty is to create job opportunities. And that’s what we’re doing here."
When the dollars coming into a town are spent outside of the community, it makes it hard to start a small business. And when there are not many successful small businesses there are few options to spend money locally.
Angie Main of NACDC says this circle of financial trouble is difficult to break.
"It’s been going on ever since we were placed on reservations, you know."
Along with giving out loans, the nonprofit assists in basic financial education.Things like how to handle credit and create a budget. They are even helping Paulette Matt set up a website for her new business.
"We’re all responsible for each other, so we have to help them as much as possible," says Main.
Main says NACDC Financial Services has about 115 loans out in the community and the organization has never seen a default.
But, she recognizes that it is not easy to break a cycle of poverty.
"Like I said we are not going to break the cycle right away, but if we make a dent, I think we’ve planted the seeds. And I think we will get there eventually. Maybe not in our lifetime but eventually, at least we are planting those seeds."
Main says it is hard to keep money on a reservation. But it is needed, to give the community an ownership of their own economy.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Glacier County is a place where Native Americans make up 63 percent of the population, but own only 26 percent of the business.