Economic Development Program

The Economic Development Program provides information and referral services to North Carolina state-recognized tribes and organizations, American Indian citizens and organizations interested in economic development enterprises and business start-up or expansion.  The Commission does not have business loans or grant funds available. We suggest contacting local banks and lending institutions and reviewing the information contained in the links below for additional business information and resources.  

Business Resources

All Business Resources

Doing Business in NC

Launching an NC Business

Small Business & Tech Development Center

Small Business Administration

THRIVE Digest: Quarterly Business Newsletter

To promote economic development within American Indian communities, the Commission of Indian Affairs has created a quarterly business newsletter to empower American Indian communities with the knowledge and resources needed for economic success. Each newsletter will share important information, opportunities and success stories.

Read the first THRIVE Digest


Most of the state’s American Indian citizens live in rural communities devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs, decrease in farming and lack of employment opportunities due to an economic downturn. Many of these same communities are still recovering from the destruction and flooding left in the aftermath of two recent hurricanes. To compound these challenges, North Carolina continues to face a global pandemic as COVID-19 and its variants hurt our economy, disproportionately affecting underserved and economically disadvantaged American Indian communities as businesses and schools closed, and magnifying racial and economic inequities through jobs and lives lost.

American Indian students seeking better lives through higher education must overcome numerous hurdles to reach their academic goals. Many students live in disadvantaged rural communities that lack high-speed internet, they lack academic preparedness, and the financial and family support necessary to attend college. Others struggle with family and work responsibilities. 

Education has long been a predictor of economic prosperity. Seeing this need, the Commission created the Supporting Undergraduate Native Students (SUNS) Program. The SUNS Program targets these students by providing emotional and cultural support, educational scholarship opportunities and financial support services that transform our students into graduates that will in turn transform their communities by making their dreams of a college degree a reality. 

This program is funded by a small grant received from the NC Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Economic Opportunity, Community Services Block Grant Program. 

What is the Supporting Undergraduate Native Students Program (SUNS)?

The Supporting Undergraduate Native Students (SUNS) Program is a college educational access and retention program sponsored by the NC Commission of Indian Affairs Economic Development Program.

The purpose of the SUNS program is to identify qualified American Indian students enrolled full-time in an accredited North Carolina community college or university and assist them in the pursuit of their educational goals.


To receive assistance from the SUNS Program, the total gross household income of the student must be at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. Students seeking a graduate degree or a second bachelor's degree are not eligible.

Students meeting two or more of the following criteria are considered Independent Students for the SUNS Program and only their income would be used in determining eligibility:

  • Student must be 18 years old or older.
  • Students with children/dependents.
  • Students living separately from their parents for 7 or more months during the year.
  • Students who receive less than 50% of their financial support from their parents. Students have income consisting of financial aid (grants, scholarships, loans), wages, etc.


Program participants must:

  • Maintain full-time enrollment (12 credit hours or more) in a North Carolina-based accredited community college or university, unless they are a senior and will graduate during the current academic year.
  • Submit a copy of their official class schedule within the same month as the start of each semester.
  • Maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) or greater throughout the program.
    • Participants must submit a copy of their transcript or grade report within the same month the semester ends.
  • Notify the SUNS Program of any changes to their telephone number, address or academic status (i.e., add, drop, enroll less than 12 credit hours or official withdraw from the semester) within the same month as the change occurred.
  • Submit all required documentation.
  • Attend Annual Academic Success Workshop.

Summary of Services

The SUNS Program is designed to provide financial assistance to income-eligible American Indian students during the fall and spring semesters only. We assist approximately 50 students each year in pursuit of their educational goals.


Educational scholarships are available to income-eligible participants for required tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment and uniforms for currently enrolled classes. Scholarships for tuition and fees will only be awarded to students who are not receiving financial aid, other financial assistance, or their financial aid does not cover cost of attendance. Please note that all tuition scholarship funds received will be paid directly to the college or university. To qualify for educational scholarships through the SUNS Program, students must request tuition assistance in writing prior to the start of each semester and provide verification of cost of attendance.

Reimbursement for books, supplies, equipment and uniforms for currently enrolled classes will be provided directly to the student upon receipt of class schedule and book receipts within the same month as the start of the semester. Failure to meet this deadline may result in loss of this service.

Please note that we cannot reimburse for books and supplies when purchased using financial aid or other financial assistance.

Annual Academic Success Workshop

The SUNS Program sponsors an Academic Success Workshop annually in May.  This required one-day workshop provides SUNS Program participants with an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics from special guest speakers. Students have the opportunity to network with other native students from across the state while learning the skills necessary to be successful.

Incentive Payments

Semester completion incentive payments are awarded per academic term for students who have a 2.0 GPA or higher. To receive reimbursement, students must provide a copy of their transcript or grade report within the same month the semester ends. 

Academic excellence incentive payments are awarded to students who have a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher at the end of the academic year (May) and have provided a copy of their transcript within the same month as the semester ends.  Incentive payment amounts will vary depending on the number of students eligible and the amount of funding received.

To receive graduation incentive payments, students must provide verification of graduation with at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA and degree awarded within the same month as graduation. Incentive payment amounts will vary depending on the number of students eligible and the amount of funding received.

Workshop attendance incentive payments will be given to students participating in the Annual Academic Success Workshop in May. 

Supportive Services

Limited funds are available to assist eligible participants with a one-time financial assistance payment for unexpected expenses such as emergency car repair or other needed services, so they may remain enrolled in a college or university. Students must request these funds in writing and include justification and verification of need. Funds will be distributed on an as-needed basis and may only be received one time during the academic year. Once funds are depleted, this service will not be available.

Learn More

For additional information about the program and eligibility, please contact Program Director Kimberly Hammonds at 984-236-0163 or

The SUNS Program is contingent upon availability of program funds. Benefit amounts will vary depending on the number of students eligible and the amount of funding received.

Terms and conditions subject to change or end without notice.