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Stiffarm named advocate for Indian businesses


A member of the Gros Ventre Tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has been tapped to help the federal government promote Native American small businesses.

Thelma Stiffarm, who was raised on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and is part Cree, was appointed assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Native American Affairs. SBA Administrator Hector Barreto announced the appointment of Stiffarm this morning according to a press release.

"We are very fortunate to have Thelma Stiffarm on our team as an advocate for Native Americans across the country," Barreto said in the release. "With her long history of dedication to the interests of the Native American community, I know she will bring a strong sense of purpose to the job."

Stiffarm, an attorney, will work in the Office of Entrepreneurial Development in Washington. As the assistant administrator, she will direct and coordinate agency-wide programs to improve small business opportunities for Native Americans, both on and off reservations, and will also work with tribal governments.

Stiffarm could not be reached for comment this morning.

Stiffarm "brings a lot of years of experience working with Indian people," both as an advocate and in a legal capacity, said Robert Swan, the CEO of RJS &Associates Inc. at Rocky Boy.

Swan, a classmate of Stiffarm in elementary school, said he has worked with Stiffarm in a professional capacity for 20 years.

"She'll bring a lot - great appointment," said Swan, who said Stiffarm has long been an advocate of small business, and brings a good background in Indian reservations and legal issues. "I expect many good things from her for all small businesses."

Stiffarm is not new to Washington. Prior to this appointment, she served as the program administrator of the Tribal Government Program in the Customer Liaison Office at the U.S. Census Bureau, the press release said. She has also served as liaison for the Census Bureau's American Indian and Alaska Native Advisory Committee.

She is the former owner of Thomas Management and Training, a small business that specialized in providing legal seminars to tribal governments and federal agencies. Last year, Stiffarm taught Federal Indian Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va.

She served one term on the Fort Belknap Tribal Council, and also served as the executive director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council in Billings. Stiffarm also has worked with the All Indian Pueblo Council, the American Indian Law Center, the United Tribes of North Dakota, and the Native American Rights Fund.

Stiffarm holds a bachelor of arts degree in secondary education from the University of Montana and a law degree from the University of New Mexico.


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