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Institute serves needs of American Indians

ASHLAND - Two and one-half years ago, Kristi Offineer wanted to take classes with an American Indian perspective that would help her develop business and leadership skills.

She found the courses she wanted, but they were being taught in Chiloquin, 98 miles away over mountain roads.

Offineer, working with several groups, has founded the Native American Leadership Institute to serve American Indian needs in the Rogue Valley in public health, communications and business. Census data show 1,980 American Indians in Jackson County in 2000.

NALI will hold a public kickoff event for members of federally recognized tribes Friday from — to — p.m. at the Ashland Community Center on Winburn Way.

"If we can look at the native person who is receptive to perhaps getting a college degree or going into business, if we can give them the skills they want and need, that is what we want to be," said Offineer.

Educational opportunities for American Indians are often reservation-based, said Offineer. Groups in the Rogue Valley primarily work to preserve culture or serve a social function, she added.

Offineer is seeking nonprofit status for the institute. The organization has a board of directors. Redbird Journal, founded by Offineer in 1998, will become its official publication.

"NALI would be a partner organization that would cosponsor with us and the Klamath tribe," said Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network director Tom Hampson, who will speak at Friday's meeting.

ONABEN offers small business development counseling, classes and workshops. With the exception of the Portland metropolitan area, all their offerings have been on reservations in Oregon.

"We are coming down to see what kinds of interest there is in those kinds of activities," said Hampson. "This is our focus-group opportunity."

ONABEN usually contracts for business counseling and consultant service in each local community. It employees local teachers, said Hampson, a 1966 graduate of Medford Senior High School. The group may work with Southern Oregon University's Small Business Development Center.

"It's important to collaborate since we are Tigard-based," said Hampson. "It's really hard to maintain continuity."

NALI is sharing office space with Oregon Action and the Southern Oregon Economic Development Coalition in Medford. The groups also serve a mentoring role and the coalition has acted as a conduit for funds before NALI obtains nonprofit status.

"There's a real need for the work that the leadership institute is developing," said Rich Rohde, director of Oregon Action. "(Offineer) can connect with others that work with us, so it's a full set of relationships and connections. It's going to take all of them."

"The partnerships she is looking at, the community businesses and education are really positive things that look to be inclusive," said David West, academic coordinator of American Indian studies at Southern Oregon University. "If someone wants to work in the business community they could get the training they might need and possibly the education."

SOU's Native American Student Union might be able to sponsor some activities and perhaps place students in practicum with the organization or businesses, said West. The work would tie into degree and certificate programs in American Indian studies. West hopes some of the activities could begin by fall.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail