Blue Stone Insights

Building Stronger Tribal Economies Part IV: Resiliency in the 21st Century
Dr. Alexandria Wright
September 20, 2021

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"Building Stronger Tribal Economies"

This series on building stronger Tribal economies concludes with the concept of resiliency, a word of great significance to past and future generations, and one which, in many ways, defines our relationship with the Earth.  How we interact with the Earth and plan for future prosperity of our communities is of utmost importance in an era riddled with conflict and disaster.  Strengthening community resiliency is a concept embedded in all of the previous topics of this article series: entrepreneurship, workforce development, and broadband connectivity.  By their very nature, these elements of our communities lead to a conversation grounded in resiliency.  The intent of this article series was to provide tangible strategies that may be implemented to broaden the concept of resiliency on Tribal lands and strengthen Tribal economies.

The complexities of the 21st century have brought forth a new era focused on strengthening community resiliency to withstand external impacts be they natural disasters, drought, global economic recessions, or health pandemics. Resiliency comes in many forms, the more traditional approaches typically involved developing redundant infrastructure and a diverse economy.  Developing Community Master Plans and Capital Improvement Plans is an effective route many Tribes have taken to strategically guide investment towards roads, water systems, energy transmission, and broadband capacity.  American Indian communities have displayed incredible cultural resiliency for the past five hundred years specializing in maintaining traditional knowledge, language, and the arts. Moving into this new century, economic resiliency stands to contribute great value to maintaining, enhancing, and expressing sovereignty.  Furthermore, building generational resiliency that affords Tribal youth opportunity and equity in access to resources is a foundational pillar to achieving resilient Tribal communities.

Economic Resiliency

When disaster strikes, in any form, the most resilient communities are those that have sustained a diverse economic platform.  This translates into investment across various industry sectors and not relying wholly on single forms of revenue generation—such as tourism and hospitality—which are impacted first during economic recessions and health pandemics.  The strategic planning process is key to developing a roadmap for the types of industry and workforce training in which a Tribe should invest.  Strategic plans recognized by federal agencies involve similar aspects such as comprehensive data on local economic conditions and key performance indicators to assist in planning efforts.  Gathering input from Tribal members during the participatory planning process is also typically required and further narrows those areas of interest for investment.  The EDA CEDS plans along with associated Economic Development Strategic Plans and Local Area Workforce Plans required by WIOA and developed by local Workforce Development Boards, provide Tribes with a living document that may guide investment decisions that build strong economies and resilient communities.

There are some basic elements to attaining a diverse economy and ensuring a resilient path into the future.  Building sufficient energy and water resources, sustaining and expanding agricultural and ranching resources, proliferating a diverse industry base and small business development, providing access to capital through microloans and small business advising, and supporting an educated and entrepreneurial workforce are key components to ensuring economic independence and advancing Tribal sovereignty in the modern era.  For example, many Tribal communities are interested in developing solar resources and boosting local agriculture and ranching capacity.  The American Rescue Plan passed in March of 2021 allocated funding to American Indian Tribes through USDA and Department of Commerce EDA to plan and build out infrastructure to support these interests.  As noted in previous articles, increasing Tribal capacity to manage grant projects is crucial to building resilient economies, and now is the time to act on these funding opportunities.  These funds may support a multitude of infrastructure projects including both residential solar systems as well as community solar systems with energy storage (an essential component of community solar systems).

Generational Resiliency

A significant element in building resilient communities is ensuring there is educational support and economic opportunity for youth and young adults.  Far too often, rural communities become economically anemic, causing future generations to seek opportunity away from home in urban areas. Larger, metro areas simply have more economic opportunity.  Creating programs, services, education, and economic opportunity for youth is crucial to securing a future on Tribal lands.

While many youth would prefer to remain close to home, lack of support and opportunity will lead them to seek education and job opportunities off Tribal lands.  Entrepreneurial resources, internships, and programs; community and cultural programming; relevant vocational programs and apprenticeships; and formal academic resources in business administration and political science through post-secondary education are basic services that will contribute to a skilled and culturally engaged next generation. Investing into the next generation’s education and cultural engagement is vital to building Tribal capacity and generational resiliency into the future.

Next Steps

Through a commitment to Tribal sovereignty and resiliency, Blue Stone Strategy Group provides services related to economic diversification and workforce development planning. Blue Stone is able to support the development of a formal CEDS document, as well as economic diversification and workforce development strategic planning.

In addition to these services Blue Stone has developed a robust expertise in current federal and state funding, and has developed the Recovery Allocation Planning Process to assist Tribes in prioritizing and funding their recovery initiatives. To encourage thinking towards a resilient future, below we have provided a listing of various funding opportunities currently authorized through the American Rescue Plan Act that can contribute towards building economic and entrepreneurial resources for your Tribe.

Resiliency is more than words, it’s an attitude, one which Indian Country has shown to embrace through the worst of circumstances.  Now is time to harness that cultural resiliency to strengthen sovereignty through economic independence and generational equity.

ARPA Opportunity
Indigenous Communities Program (EDA)
Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Grants (EDA)
Good Jobs Challenge (EDA)
Build Back Better Regional Challenge (EDA)
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (USDA)
Species Recovery Grants to States
$100 million
$240 million
$500 million
$1 Billion

TA grants up to $205,000 annually; Loans of $50,000-$500,000 for establishing a rural Microloan Revolving Fund

Awards of $300,000 - $900,000

Projects can include foundational economic infrastructure projects, such as broadband, energy, road, water, and wastewater infrastructure (including community water facilities); vocational and higher education facilities; and community health facilities that are necessary for future job creation. Projects can also include non-construction projects to provide technical assistance to support business development, entrepreneurship assistance, economic development planning, rural prosperity, and workforce training in indigenous communities.

Development of travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation pandemic recovery strategies and the implementation of recovery projects.
Examples include:

  • Water and stormwater/wastewater improvements,
  • Pier construction and improvements
  • New outdoor recreation and trail infrastructure and public access
  • Nature-based infrastructure projects to improve access to recreation,
  • Cultural, arts, and tourism facilities (e.g., visitor or tourist information centers),
  • Workforce training facilities and capacity building programs,
  • Accessibility enhancements, and
  • Country-wide or multi-state travel, tourism, or outdoor recreation promotion.
Collaborative skills training systems and programs.EDA will fund proposals within the following three phases, as applicable to regional needs:
  1. System Development: Help establish and develop a regional workforce training system comprised of multiple sector partnerships
  2. Program Design: Develop the skills training curriculum and materials, and secure technical expertise needed to train workers
  3. Program Implementation: Implement non-construction projects needed to provide workforce training and connect workers with quality jobs, including wrap-around services
Phase 1: funding of 50-60 'coalitions' to prepare detailed applications for transformation economic development projects
Phase 2: funding of 25-30 of these coalitions to implement their projects ($25-$75 Million)

Loans and Grants Microenterprise Development Organizations (MDOs) to:

  • To help microenterprises startup and growth through a Rural Microloan Revolving Fund.
  • Provide training and technical assistance to microloan borrowers and micro entrepreneurs.
These grants support management, research, monitoring, and/or outreach activities that have direct conservation benefits for ESA-listed species. Recently delisted species, proposed, and candidate species are also eligible.

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