Strengthening Native American Communities & Economies
First Nations Development Institute works with our national and local partners to identify, develop and implement household and community asset-building strategies that empower Native people. Working with our community partners in tribal colleges and community development financial institutions (CDFIs), we share ideas through peer learning and we finance program development through our grantmaking program. Working with our national and regional partners, we have helped share information about household asset-building programs such as Individual Development Accounts, Children’s Savings Accounts, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites. We also conduct research on issues related to predatory lending in Native communities and work to raise awareness of this problem. First Nations’ programs help move families and communities toward financial security.
To create systemic economic change, First Nations also works with Native American communities to develop new businesses and services, and reclaim direct control of assets. We seek to help communities understand, create and control the way in which Native assets are valued, as well as the decision-making process in deciding whether to monetize those assets.
First Nations and its wholly-owned subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, work with reservation and rural Indian communities to create and support CDFIs, Native businesses and tribal programs with early-stage investments and capitalization to stimulate business growth through new financial models, products and services. Through entrepreneurship and business-development projects targeted at both the tribal (macro) and individual (micro) levels, First Nations creates and supports sustainable economic development in Native communities.
Our Native Family Empowerment Program is helping two tribal colleges, Chief Dull Knife College and Northwest Indian College, to provide services to support Native students who are also parents. The two tribal colleges will provide “bundled services” to their Native students who are parents, including social supports (e.g. child care, assistance accessing benefits, counseling) and financial empowerment supports (e.g. financial education, asset-building, workforce readiness, financial coaching). By supporting parents and their young children, this program will help families achieve financial empowerment. Chief Dull Knife College and Northwest Indian College have each received $90,000 grants for 2.5 years. First Nations is also offering technical assistance to the People’s Partners for Community Development and Lummi Community Development Financial Institution, two CDFIs that work in partnership with the colleges.
Under the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime initiative, with funding from the Ford Foundation, First Nations works with key partners in Oklahoma to build and nurture two coalitions dedicated to inclusive asset-building. First Nations coordinated this work with the goal of elevating an asset-building agenda at the state, local and tribal levels that will provide inclusive income and program strategies to ensure family economic security. Working closely with partners on the ground, First Nations helped the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC) reach out to tribes and Native nonprofits in the state and share ideas, information and innovative models with policymakers and practitioners.
In 2014, ONAC began piloting its Native Children’s Savings Account Campaign with two mini-grants to the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. First Nations also worked closely with Oklahoma Policy Institute to support the Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN) as it reached out to underserved communities in Oklahoma, identified key policy and program issues, and educated community members and policy leaders about innovative asset-building programs.
In 2014, OAN initiated a partnership with Restore Hope Ministries to offer an emergency savings program to Restore Hope clients. OAN also collaborated with Howard University Center on Race and Wealth to profile payday lending in Oklahoma. Dr. Haydar Kurban, a professor from Howard University, published Demographics of Payday Lending in Oklahoma. OAN and Dr. Kurban presented the findings from this research in April 2015 at Who Pays More: A Town Hall Forum on Predatory Lending in Oklahoma.
In 2015, the Ford Foundation granted $600,000 to First Nations for two years of continuing work on the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime initiative in Oklahoma. Under this grant, support will be provided to ONAC and OAN into 2017.
First Nations Development Institute launched the Native Asset-Building Partnership Project (NABPP) to help tribes develop tools and infrastructure for control of their assets. The NABPP is geared to strengthen tribal institutions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota through peer learning and model development that will lead to improved control and management of assets for the benefit of Native communities and individuals. First Nations' goal is to foster partnerships between tribes and allow them to share best practices for asset stewardship and management.
In 2012, First Nations received grant support to help develop and facilitate two partnerships between (1) the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Hopi Tribe, and (2) the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Spokane Tribe, in order to strengthen the tribal infrastructure through peer learning and model development. The partnerships are based on a mentor-mentee relationship model where one tribe with an established program model assists another tribe in developing a similar program in their tribal community. In the first partnership, the Hopi tribe will share best practices with the Oneida Nation for developing infrastructure to establish an endowment fund. In the second partnership, the Mille Lacs Band will work with the Spokane tribe to build on human capital so Mille Lacs can improve its natural resource division and engage the community with this division. The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Otto Bremer Foundation.
The Department of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Sovereign Power Inc. have both brought different expertise and experience to this partnership, which has focused on alternative energy development, including wind and solar and various forest management practices. In 2010, representatives from this partnership held their third annual meeting on the Mille Lacs reservation in Onamia, Minnesota. The main topic of discussion was woody biofuel production, taking into consideration that biomass power is the largest source of renewable energy. Woody biomass consists of trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment, and that are the by-products of forest management. Discussion at this meeting focused on the necessary steps for woody biomass production, including business approaches and cultural considerations to making biomass production work on Indian lands.
In 2012, First Nations received a grant to form partnerships between tribal colleges and local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in two communities. This project will pilot in the two tribal communities of the Lummi Nation, located in Washington, and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The tribal colleges, Northwest Indian College and the College of the Menominee Nation, will provide business and entrepreneurship-focused training for tribal college students. Students who have completed the training will be encouraged and eligible for business start-up or expansion loans from the CDFIs. The intention is to promote the growth of private-sector business development in Indian Country. The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.
In order to focus on the capitalization and development of emerging Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the board of directors of First Nations Development Institute incorporated First Nations Oweesta Corporation as a wholly owned subsidiary in 1999. The organization's sound stewardship directly contributed to the rapid development of certified Native CDFIs. For more than 10 years, Oweesta has been part of some 200 total awards to the Native institutions, totaling tens of millions of dollars in fruitful investment in Indian Country. Oweesta focuses on CDFI development by offering expert training and customized follow-up assistance, and by providing loans to qualifying organizations, enabling them to reinvest the capital back into their communities.
Please visit First Nations Oweesta's website here.