One loan recipient is an artist who used the money to build a website to sell his work. Another runs a video production company and needed funds to keep her business alive. In all, 49 Native entrepreneurs applied for and received loans of up to $5,000.

The Kinship Lending program is run by Change Labs, a Tuba City, Arizona-based business incubator. They help new Navajo and Hopi businesses grow by providing training, funding, and other resources.

According to Stago, Change Labs’ Director of Business Incubation, the program has distributed about $196,000 to Native-owned businesses since the pandemic began. They’re now seeking new funding to offer more loans.

The money provided a lifeline to Navajo and Hopi small businesses. As coronavirus cases surged on the reservations in the spring, commerce essentially ended.

“The impact was severe and it was sudden,” said Stago. “We had some businesses reporting a 90 percent loss in revenue within a month.”

To qualify for Kinship Lending, business owners must be an enrolled member of a Native American tribe. They also must reside on either the Navajo or Hopi reservations, or in bordering towns such as Cortez, Farmington, and Flagstaff. The money can be used to cover rent or payroll, replace lost revenue, or improve the business.

For Change Labs, the loans do more than support small business owners. They strengthen Native communities by encouraging entrepreneurship.

“It creates a baseline economy that’s more stable than what we’ve seen historically on the reservations,” Stago explained.

I’m reporting on local and regional news in the Four Corners region for KSUT Public Radio. Stories and audio previously were aired and published by KSUT. Stories are archived at Open Range News.

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