Young Teens Encouraged to Become Entrepreneurs

GREAT FALLS Mont.

Matt Walker, 12, would like to own a business one day.

He has not pinned down what type, but after this week Matt, who will enter eighth grade at East Middle School next fall, will be better equipped to pursue future entrepreneurial efforts.

A participant in the inaugural First People’s Youth Entrepreneurship Camp at the University of Great Falls, Matt met role models, including Native American business owners and accomplished athletes. He even had the chance to meet the governor. Matt also secured a four-year tuition scholarship to UGF if he decides to pursue a college education there after high school.

The camp is the result of a combined effort by Rural Dynamics and the Montana Indian Business Alliance. The cost is underwritten with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, additional funding from Montana State University-Billings and the Montana State Tribal Economic Development Council. UGF provides on-campus housing, facilities and meals.

“The goal is to build entrepreneurship in Montana’s Native American communities,” said Adam Gill, the program director for Rural Dynamics. “We are targeting this age group, 13- and 14-year-olds, because they have a good sense of the world now, and they can take the leadership lessons they are learning here with them into high school.”

Deb Kottel, who works at both UGF and Rural Dynamics, said: “Entrepreneurship is at the heart of people being able to create vibrant, sustainable communities. It’s how you battle poverty. Native American communities are already working with youth entrepreneurial camps. We wanted to foster a camp that goes across tribal lines.”

“It’s a way to say to these kids, ‘We have faith in you so you can have faith in yourself as you go through high school,’ ” Kottel said.

The promise of a scholarship is part of the reason 14-year-old Shyleena Red Dog applied. Knowing that she already has a place at UGF, along with a way to pay for it, is nice, she said.

Offering four-year scholarships to students too young to take an Advanced Placement course or try out for a varsity athletic team isn’t routine, has two purposes, said UGF President Eugene McAllister, “To get these young people to begin to think about attending college and to give them a means to do that.”

The campers will travel to Helena and Browning to meet Native American business owners and are working on projects to benefit their communities.

Buffalo Warriors group members are creating a plan to perform chores such as lawn work and home maintenance for elders in their communities. Another group is outlining annual family events, such as a haunted house at Halloween and a scavenger hunt as a way to bring community members together. The Urban Indian group would hold a garage sale and use the proceeds to buy blankets, coats and other items for Native Americans in homeless shelters in cities.

“We’d like to see the lessons learned here be used by the students when they return to their communities,” said Billie Norgaard, a camp facilitator from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

The camp experience is intended to be empowering, added Heather Cahoon, a facilitator from the Flathead Indian Reservation.

“We want the kids to see that they can do anything,” she said. “They can own their own businesses with perseverance and dedication.”

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