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GREAT FALLS - For attorney Thelma Stiffarm, being appointed to a post in the Small Business Administration just seemed appropriate.

After all, Stiffarm, a member of the Gros Ventre tribe who grew up in Box Elder, credits much of her success to working in small businesses - beauty shops mostly - while she put herself through school.

"Each one was a small business owned by a woman," says Stiffarm. "They never gave up; they just figured out ways to make their businesses work."

Four decades later, Stiffarm is poised to offer help to similar small businesses. She recently was appointed assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Native American Affairs.

Her new post in Washington, D.C., involves boosting small business opportunities for American Indians through SBA programs "The SBA already has good programs in place," Stiffarm said. "But we need to make Indian people aware of those program and make them easier to access."

She plans to engage tribal colleges in that effort.

"We can adapt any training materials we already have to provide the assistance and training people need," Stiffarm said.

She'll also be engaging the firsthand knowledge of tribal leaders.

"We are very fortunate to have Thelma Stiffarm on our team as an advocate for Native Americans across the country," SBA Administrator Hector Barreto said in a written statement announcing her appointment.

"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."

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