Closing the Opportunity Gap for Native American Entrepreneurs

This fall, the Kauffman Foundation welcomed champions of diverse entrepreneurs—all awardees of the Foundation’s inclusion grants—to the inaugural Close the Gap convening in order to work together to address the root causes of systemic barriers to entrepreneurship.

 

Two of the 71 attendees were Eddie Sherman, Navajo and Omaha, board president of the Oregon Native American Chamber, and James Alan Parker, enrolled citizen of the Chippewa Cree, director of operations of the Oregon Native American Chamber. Their mission is to advance the educational and economic opportunities for Native Americans in Oregon and southwestern Washington to ensure that the community has access to resources critical to starting a business in today’s economy.

U.S. Census data shows that while 79.9 percent of single-race American Indian and Alaska Native population, age 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, GED certificate or alternative credential in 2016, only 14.5 percent obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 33 percent of all adults. Adults without formal education—regardless of race—are much less likely to be entrepreneurs than their educated counterparts.

 

That gap matters. To address it, the Native American Chamber led the development of a statewide plan, the Coalition for Oregon Native Enterprise or ONE Coalition, to help Native Americans engage actively in the economy, including becoming entrepreneurs as well as investors.

 

Although American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is marked by federal proclamation to recognize the "significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.," the historic trauma of native people has been carried for generations. For many Native Americans, the recent Thanksgiving holiday is observed as day of mourning.

 

While Native American entrepreneurs have been historically under-represented, closing the entrepreneurship opportunity gap would create a positive impact in many communities—and our country as a whole.

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