WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - In hopes of stimulating private business on the Navajo Reservation, the Dineh Chamber of Commerce, comprised of business leaders from the Navajo private sector, recently incorporated with the Navajo Nation.
Jeff Begay, interim chair for the Dineh Chamber of Commerce, said the federal government subsidizes and creates jobs through the Navajo Nation Tribal Council. He believes the private sector creates very few jobs.
"Government can put money into a community and if there is no economic development, if there is no private sector that money goes to other areas that have private sector development," Begay said. "In our case, that would be border towns that have all the grocery stores and the movie theaters and all of the other things we do not have on the reservation."
He said there is a serious money drain on the reservation and also a talent pool drain because the younger, college educated generation leaves for Phoenix, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Winslow where they get jobs from the private sector. The chamber hopes to promote training, certification and other support for small businesses on the reservation by networking with universities and local businesses interested in promoting economic development on the Navajo reservation.
Begay said starting a business on the Navajo reservation can take as long as two years. One objective of the Dineh Chamber of Commerce is to address this situation by collaborating with the Navajo Nation to assist individuals who wish to start a business.
"Why does it take one year, even if it's less than that, it's outrageous, it's ridiculous," Begay said. "We have too much government control over the private sector. The Dineh Chamber of Commerce wants to work with the tribal government, the tribal administration, anybody who is involved in economic development so we can generate a private sector."
The Dineh Chamber of Commerce is concerned when tourists visit places like Tuba City or Kayenta where services are scarce besides some fast food and a few hotels.
"It's a sad situation," Begay said. "We want to promote private sector development and work with the tribal council and encourage them to do different things that will promote business ownership."
The Navajo Division of Economic Development invited the chamber to participate in the initial collaborative effort and advocacy for Navajo business opportunities with the Navajo tribal enterprises through the Navajo Bond program at Twin Arrows Casino and Resort.
"That's a good start right there by providing some of that work to the Navajo businesses and also some of those loans and grants to Navajo businesses so they can get started," Begay said.
Begay emphasized the chamber wants to work collaboratively and in a friendly manner with the existing tribal administration and the tribal government.
Currently, the chamber membership is made up of 10 business owners, some of whom work for other businesses. Begay said this gives the chamber members a pretty good idea of what it takes to run a business, what the barriers are and what the good things are about running a business on the Navajo reservation.
Because of the size of the Navajo Reservation, chamber officials hope to have Dineh chamber boards in regional locations concentrating on their own geographical areas.
"We don't have definite regional locations right now but we think if you had some groups in each of those major growth areas it would be more beneficial than trying to work out of a centralized Dineh Chamber of Commerce office," Begay said.
The chamber will have a central office in Window Rock but the need for satellite offices is apparent already.
"We encourage businesses in Tuba City for instance to start working with us so we can set up regional chamber offices," Begay said.
The chamber will also write and receive grants for community growth and development.
The chamber will provide different levels of membership including corporate levels, individual membership, associate membership, which would be a non-voting membership and also a student membership, in an effort to engage students and get them involved in tribal administration and tribal government.
"We are starting a process that we hope will take off," Begay said. "It's going to take awhile for people to change their mind from a socialized society where the government takes care of everything to one of self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship. It's going to take awhile but we have got to start somewhere."
The Board of Directors for the Dineh Chamber of Commerce includes Duane Aspaas; Jeff Begay, interim chair; Romero Brown; Heather Fleming, vice-chairman; Al Henderson, secretary/treasurer; David John; Loren Miller; Michael Nelson; Aaron Shorty and Amber Schillinger.
More information about the Dineh Chamber of Commerce is available by writing to P.O. Box 4920, Window Rock, Ariz. 86515.