MPR: Minnesota tribes meet for economic development summit
"Drive down Highway 1 in Red Lake and you'll see lots of government buildings and a tribally owned grocery store. But there are no coffee shops or clothing stores. No movie theaters or bowling alleys.

Red Lake officials hope to change that. They've partnered with the American Indian Economic Development Fund, a St. Paul-based organization that provides loans and training for start-up businesses in Indian Country.

That's the kind of assistance Minnesota's three largest Indian tribes -- the White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake bands of Ojibwe -- will discuss when they gather in Red Lake today and Thursday for their third economic development summit.

The tribes, which have been working together since 2006, aim to build self-sufficient tribal economies that would help reduce unemployment on the three reservations -- typically between 40 and 60 percent. Casinos provide thousands of jobs, but the tribes struggle to build economies that include private industry or small businesses.

Miskwasin Spears, one of half-dozen tribal members taking part in the first business class for potential entrepreneurs at Red Lake, wants to open a barber shop, something the reservation is lacking.

"I feel like it would really be necessary up here," Spears said. "There's a lot of children that need haircuts."

Spears has applied for a small business loan and the tribe agreed to provide space for him to set up his shop. He hopes to get started by the end of the month, but he knows there are risks."

Get the Story:
Building the Indian Country economy, one business at a time (Minnesota Public Radio 8/11)