The Navajo Nation has been enforcing stay-at-home orders, curfews and weekend closures for months to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And it has presented a challenge for artists, vendors, and small businesses on the reserve that rely on tourism and do not have online stores. A business incubator called Change Labs is offering loans up to $ 5,000 to Indigenous entrepreneurs in the Navajo and Hopi Nations to help them cope with the pandemic. Melissa Sevigny from KNAU spoke to Jessica Stago from Change Lab about the unusual loan program based on the idea of “kinship loan”.
Thus, businesses in the Navajo Nation were already facing challenges before the pandemic struck. Can you tell us a bit about some of these challenges and how things have changed in recent months?
Literally, almost all of our businesses were almost on the verge of a complete shutdown, and are still in that state at this time. Most of our businesses are on the reservation, and with the reservation still being locked out every weekend… they just don’t have the ability to do business or even think about when they can start opening their business. business… So most of our businesses are very small micro businesses, their markets are the people who are in their communities. Some of the artists we work with are looking to try and switch to an online environment, but even that is really difficult when you don’t have high speed internet access…. Everyone is grappling with these things, and then also just the difficulty of being in the community going through this at the same time.
Tell me about this loan program that Change Labs has put in place, and how has it been so far?
It was originally designed to provide seed funding for graduates of our business incubators. What ultimately happened once COVID hit was, we decided, let’s open this up to the community. It is designed as a personality based loan program which is different from a traditional micro loan program or any loan program. We don’t ask for a credit report, we don’t look at the credit score, the loan decision is based on our own relationship with those businesses that are in our community. So this is in a nutshell how we arrived at Parentage loan.
Can you tell me what difference you have seen these loans make in the community so far?
An interesting story is that of a man who is a rodeo entrepreneur, he contracts his bulls for these rodeos, and since the rodeos were canceled during the summer, he suffered a loss of income and he had to pay to feed. his animals because he had no income. This was something neither of us had thought of, but we were happy to help him, as he should have sold his bulls, which makes it much more difficult to start a business afterwards … One of our loan seekers is actually a medicine man. But he also raises sheep. We wanted to spend the money to fix his vehicle because he needed to travel more to reach more people and take care of his sheep … He’s definitely someone who could never access another kind of funding…. There are so many other stories about: people had big plans … and it seems so unfair that just when Indigenous businesses seemed to be on a roll, there was a buzz around Indigenous entrepreneurship, and that ‘is fair – it’s still there but everyone’s on a level playing field right now, it’s really tough. I am really happy that with Kinship loans we can give some hope.
Jessica Stago, thank you very much for speaking with me.