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Arizona's Rep. Eli Crane helps U.S. House pass the Native American Entrepreneurial Opportunity Act

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The U.S. House passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan resolution to advance opportunities for tribal entrepreneurs on reservations across Indian Country on Thursday.

House Resolution 7201, better known as the Native American Entrepreneurial Opportunity Act, would establish an Office of Native American Affairs within the Small Business Administration.

A co-sponsor was Republican Rep. Eli Crane from Arizona’s Second Congressional District.

“Something I hear often is there’s a need for economic growth and opportunity,” said Crane during Wednesday remarks on the House floor. “Tribal entrepreneurs who run businesses on reservations face complex hurdles when it comes to understanding tax implications, property rights, regulatory burdens and lending.”

Crane is hopeful that the creation of this new office will assist the SBA in stepping up to meet the unique challenges that they face and “ensure that tribal businesses are not overlooked.” 

“Tribal entrepreneurs should have the ability to access SBA programs just like anyone else,” added Crane, “but in reality, these communities do not experience adequate access or outreach.” 

He’s even encouraging officials from the Small Business Administration to “come out and visit” with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, both residing within his district, to begin new dialogues ahead of the proposed development of a separate office within this independent agency.

His co-sponsor, Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, and also spoke about this issue’s financial significance from the House floor on Wednesday. 

“Native-owned businesses employ over 300,000 Americans and are vital drivers of our national economy,” said Davids. “These tribal businesses deserve a seat at the table to advocate not only for the challenges, but also the successes and achievements that they have.” 

The Census Bureau’s 2020 Annual Business Survey revealed that more than 26,000 Indigenous businesses are operational nationwide, generating about $35 billion in revenue annually.

Recently, the Navajo Nation announced that it would receive nearly $90 million through the expanded State Small Business Credit Initiative in January. This new line of federal funding, made available through the American Rescue Plan Act, is aimed to support small Navajo businesses and tribal enterprises. 

But before Thursday’s vote, Davids even expressed her gratitude to Crane in a genuine show of bipartisanship.

“I want to thank Congressman Crane, my Republican colleague and co-lead on this, for his partnership in introducing this bill,” added Davids, “and I urge members on both sides of the aisle to stand united in support of this crucial piece of legislation and vote in favor of successful entrepreneurship in tribal communities.”

This House resolution received widespread bipartisan support, with 402 members backing the bill, while 16 opposed the legislation and 14 abstained from voting.

Now, the Senate will consider the measure.

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.