Empowering US Finance Literacy for Indigenous Communities

Chrystel Cornelius of Oweesta Corporation on the history of systematic oppression around access to capital for indigenous communities-and what can be done about it.

Indigenous communities face many levels of barriers to thrive in U.S. financial systems. First, communities are governed by both the U.S. and their tribal affiliations, creating unique structures for each group. But the laws are turning into a toxic mixture of agreements and broken promises, leaving many without a foundation for financial stability. Moreover there is a hodge-podge of modern-day legislative gaps, policy bias and lack of access to financial services.

Operating since 1999, Colorado-based Oweesta Corporation is one of the oldest Native CDFI intermediaries in the US, offering financial products and development services exclusively to Native CDFIs and Native communities. Within indigenous communities, 86% lack a financial institution. Remote communities lack broadband internet services.

Communities with access are often faced with financial policies, systems or services that are not racially sensitive, despite legislative efforts to correct these practices. We recently spoke with Chrystel Cornelius, CEO of Oweesta Corporation, about the importance of providing financial literacy to indigenous communities and how CDFIs are uniquely positioned to help.

Why is it important to offer financial literacy to indigenous communities?

Financial education is an integral part of the systematic oppression around access to capital for indigenous communities.

Indigenous individuals are also the smallest of any minority group to have emergency funds or a banking/checking account of any other minority population in the country. So indigenous families will not have access to the emergency loans necessary to keep families alive, fed, and safe during the pandemic and its recovery period.

Given this context, Native Communities are disproportionately challenged in creating generational wealth and passing on financial management knowledge to future generations.

Financial education is important for our indigenous communities because we are building the foundation for the long -term continuity of financial generation. Our traditional cultural practices are rooted in sophisticated resource management. When we combine these skills with western financial management, as seen in ours Developing Indigenous Communities range of financial education curricula, Indigenous families are taking traditional skills and modern financial language to navigate western economic systems.

Unfortunately, financial education is not the overall solution to the barriers of financial inequality for indigenous communities; it is a step in the long path of creating equity in the economic system of the United States.

What are you doing with that thing?

We accomplish this mission by following an integrated asset development strategy. Oweesta provides training, technical assistance, investment, research, and advocacy to help indigenous communities develop a range of asset building products and services including financial education and financial products.

How does this help?

Asset-building tools stimulate booking economies by providing the opportunity for tribe members to gain financial skills and build assets by creating small businesses, owning home, education and more.

Oweesta shows that financial education programs in indigenous communities strengthen the local economies of each individual. By teaching Indigenous community members how to manage their assets, save toward financial goals, take advantage of resources and avoid predatory lenders, financial education programs contribute in building sustainable economies and healthy communities.

Since most indigenous communities have traditionally operated within a “cash economy,” delivering these skills is essential to advancing asset generation opportunities. By providing financial education programs and services, many tribe members have the first opportunity to learn budgeting and the importance of credit, receive a copy of their credit report, and discover ways in which community wealth can be generated. , as well as tools. to determine the interest rates of the credit loan.

Have you ever experienced the challenges of serving the unique circumstances of tribal communities placed alongside systematic local/state/federal government structures? Challenges in rural/remote services?

The history of residence in the United States means that indigenous communities have been more forcibly relocated to geographically isolated reservations. Indigenous economies are – because of these historical issues – highly dependent on the arts, entertainment and residential (especially gaming) industries.

In many indigenous communities, more than 30% of tribal citizens work in the service industry, which has been severely affected by COVID-19; this compares to only 18% of the total US population.

The Native Community Development Finance Institution movement is at the forefront of meeting the capital needs of indigenous communities. In most cases, these Indigenous CDFIs were established to be the engines of economic development of their communities.

Over 23 years of impact monitoring, Oweesta has seen more than $ 50 million circulated to Native communities through Native CDFIs, leading to 12,453 jobs created or maintained, and 2,654 small businesses funded throughout country.

For the past 20 years, Oweesta has worked to address issues affecting the Nation of India by providing innovative financial education programs to diverse indigenous communities.

The foundation for this work is the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families (BNC) curriculum, which is now in its 5th edition. In response to a need for a culturally relevant financial education curriculum in the Country of India, Oweesta has created a student workbook, a teacher development program and an educator’s guide to assist in the teaching of financial education. in an accessible, effective and culturally responsive way.

How important is collaboration with other organizations or communities/civic stakeholders in your work?

All of our collaborative partners have become Oweesta’s champions and strategic partners in building the economic sovereignty of indigenous communities across the country.

The partnership is an integral part of supporting and expanding financial education and capital initiatives at Oweesta Corporation. We have developed partnerships with Tribal governments and Indigenous CDFIs to expand the reach of financial education services.

We are also fortunate to establish trustworthy partnerships with financial and philanthropic institutions that understand our guiding principles of arming Indigenous peoples with the tools and resources to thrive on their own terms. Thanks to these partnerships we are able to offer some of our programming for free or at low cost.

What goals do you have for growth or future initiatives?

Our ultimate goal is to work ourselves out of existence. We look forward to seeing Native Nations thriving on their own.

In the near future, we are expanding our range of financial education programs. We are launching an advanced curriculum for Building Native Communities: Financial Coaching for Families to assist Native financial practitioners in further developing their coaching skills in 2023.

We will also be launching the full Native CDFI Practitioners Certification program. This program is designed to build the operational sustainability and organizational capacity of Indigenous CDFIs nationwide, through tailored instruction in financial management, lending, development services, impact monitoring, marketing, capitalization and more. pa.

In addition to content adapted to indigenous communities, we will create a learning cohort where practitioners can freely share the challenges of their unique operating environment. We regard this space for connection, learning and sharing as critical for our practitioners.

Hadassah Patterson has written for news outlets for more than a decade, contributing seven years to local online news and having 15 years of experience in commercial copywriting. He currently covers politics, business, social justice, culture, food and welfare.