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LI Native Americans seek to gauge interest in business incubator

Participants in a traditional American Indian round dance

Participants in a traditional American Indian round dance hold hands at the 35th annual Paumanauke Native American Festival on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015, at Babylon Town Hall in Lindenhurst. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

A coalition of Native Americans expressed confidence Saturday that a planned business incubator will spur economic development and encourage collaboration among local tribes.

But first they need to gauge interest in an incubator, which would help create and nurture Native American-owned small businesses and connect entrepreneurs with loans and contracts.

On Saturday, members of a work group planning the incubator took the stage at an annual powwow in Lindenhurst to officially launch a survey geared toward area Native Americans,    who either own or are thinking of starting small businesses.

"We have what we think is a great idea," said Darlene Troge, who directs the economic-development department of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. "But we don't know if that is what Native American entrepreneurs want."

The survey will help define the proposed incubator. One idea the work group has is a building housing 10-to-20 Native American-owned small businesses sharing equipment and support personnel, with workshops and individualized assistance.

The setting for Saturday's announcement was the 35th annual Paumanauke Native American Festival, a display of tribal unity. A colorful "grand entry" procession that inaugurated the festival featured Native Americans from as far as Rhode Island and Florida, dressed and adorned in traditional deerskin, feather, shell and bead regalia.

Likewise, the business incubator "is going to bring us all together -- strength in numbers -- and not only the native community but the nonnative community," said Tony Langhorn, powwow chairman.

There's a great need for economic development among Native Americans, said Carlos Vidal, associate dean of the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development at Stony Brook University.

He and other faculty, staff and students at Stony Brook are advising the incubator group. Native Americans have lower median incomes, higher poverty rates and greater unemployment than their nonnative counterparts, Vidal said.

One common problem for Native American small-business owners is an inability to obtain loans, Troge said. Federal programs give preferences to Native Americans for certain federal loans and contracts, but many native people are unaware of the programs, she said. An incubator would help connect them to those programs and to private investors, she added.

Others would also benefit from the incubator, Troge said. Companies on Long Island could pair with native-owned small businesses to expand their access to federal contracts, she said.

The goal is self-sufficiency, said Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation. "We're talking about sustenance for future generations," he said.

Funding for the survey comes primarily from the nonprofit Long Island Community Foundation. It is online at tiny.cc/LINAincubator.

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