Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 24, 2001 - Issue 32



Business Educator Reaches the Tribes


by Sherrie Buzby The Arizona Republic

Joan Timeche is first Native American to be named Small Business Advocate of the Year by the state Small Business Administration.

TUCSON - The University of Arizona's Joan Timeche is as much an educator as the tenured professors strolling around campus between classes. But her students and curriculum are taught on Indian reservations.

The first Native American to be named Small Business Advocate of the Year by the state Small Business Administration, Timeche teaches management and business development skills to tribal leaders on Arizona's 21 Indian nations.

She recently was named assistant director of the Native Nations Program for UA's Udall Policy Center.

Many of her teachings derive from her 12 years of counseling Native American entrepreneurs on how to develop successful businesses.

Timeche, who is Hopi, has dozens of examples of people who overcame the challenges of living on a reservation to start a business.

There was the man who started a towing business in Dilcon in 1996, and a year later opened another location in Newlands. There was the couple who in 1997 bought a restaurant, now named Amigo Café, near Kayenta. And on the Hopi reservation she helped a young entrepreneur establish a dot-com -

Ron Harbour, spokesman for the state SBA office, said Timeche was a big reason the SBA was able to back 20 loans totaling $6.3 million in 2000 for fledgling businesses owned by Native Americans.

For nearly a decade, Timeche was program director for the Center for American Indian Economic Development at Northern Arizona University. She crisscrossed Arizona to nurture Native American-owned businesses, including ones with Apache, Navajo and Salt River Pima tribes.

Timeche, 45, recalled growing up poor off the reservation in a community on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The community's 15 one-bedroom residences for Indians were not much larger than a hotel room. Each had a sink with running water, but Timeche's family of eight had to share toilets, showers and laundry facilities with the neighbors.

She attended Grand Canyon Public School, which had 200 students in K-12. It was there, in eighth grade, Timeche believes, that her advocacy role began to form.

A new student in her class, the park superintendent's daughter, assumed that all Indians were ignorant, but felt threatened academically by Timeche.

"I am outspoken," Timeche said. "When I don't like the things I see, I tell people about it."

Out of the experience, she resolved to dispel the myth that Indians are not self-sustaining, she said. History shows that Indian tribes were thriving and self-sufficient before Europeans arrived, she said. And even after being stripped of land and resources, many adapted to forge a dignified living.

To prove her point, Timeche went on to graduate valedictorian of her class in 1973. She received scholarship offers from both UA and Arizona State University.

She chose ASU, but lasted a semester. The cultural and societal challenges she faced got the best of the ASU freshman. Dealing with her Anglo roommate and overwhelming class sizes took their toll on her grades. She received her first D in art history, which had focused on European artists.

She then enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to be closer to friends and family. In 1978, she graduated with a bachelor's in social work.

After graduation, Timeche said, she took a job as a summer youth coordinator for what is now the Workforce Investment Act, a federal program. That temporary position led to more pivotal positions to help Indians prosper.

"I knew I wanted to be out on my reservation, or another tribe, working with Indians," Timeche said.

Most Indians whom Timeche saw while growing up had menial labor jobs working in or near the canyon. She didn't see many Indian-owned businesses.

In 1987, there were 872 Native American-owned businesses in Arizona, or 0.5 percent of all minority owned businesses, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce survey. By 1992, the latest numbers available, the percent had increased only slightly, to 0.64, for a total of 1,590 Indian-owned firms.

Timeche remains frustrated by the small numbers, given that Native Americans represent about 6 percent of Arizona's population.

But she has hopes that things are starting to improve, and that she can make a difference.

"I wish to make changes for the better," Timeche said.



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