Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Oweesta

“Oweesta” is a Mohawk word for money or item of exchange.
Oweesta helps create Native community development financial institutions (CDFI) including business revolving loan funds, credit unions/associations, banks, venture capital institutions and housing loan funds. These local organizations then have the capacity to assist individuals, businesses and organizations with financing and technical assistance for the development of small businesses, homeownership, community facilities, financial education programs, etc. in Native communities. Click here to go to our Programs and Services.
Oweesta is supported through earned income from development services and investments, as well as a combination of private and public funds including foundations, federal programs, banks, other CDFIs, and individual donors. We are not a federal, state or tribally-owned/run organization, but a private, national, Native CDFI intermediary serving all Native communities. Click here to see Our Supporters.

Frequently Asked Questions About Native CDFIs

Native CDFI stands for Native community development financial institution, which is an organization dedicated to providing development services (training and technical assistance) and various types of financial services (checking, savings, consumer loans, business loans, housing loans, etc.) to Native communities encouraging them to become strong and self sufficient. CDFIs include loan funds, banks, credit unions/associations and venture capital institutions. Credit unions were among the first forms of CDFIs in this country going back to the early 1900s, modeled after efforts originating in Germany and England in the mid 1800s. A Native CDFI works for the betterment of a Native community and can be located anywhere there is a significant Native population, whether it is on a reservation (federally-recognized and non), in an Alaska Native village, across the Hawaiian Islands or in a metropolitan area anywhere in the 50 states or beyond – as long as the institution is truly serving that Native population. Over the years Oweesta has more narrowly defined what a Native CDFI is by evaluating the level to which they assist the Native population and by its management/staff makeup.
A good first step is to look over our information and sign up for one of the training programs to determine if this is the right step for your community. You can also work with the CDFI Fund on this process and apply for one of the Native CDFI start-up technical assistance grants available through the Fund. If you take these steps as you organize your group in your home location, the process of starting a Native CDFI is not that difficult with the proper guidance.
While it is often an effort of the tribe to start a Native CDFI and it is helpful to have the administrative and financial support of the tribe in the early years of a start up, it is not mandatory for them to be involved. Many CDFIs around the country were simply started by a group of concerned citizens, business people, homeowners or a group of individuals living in a certain geographic area. Most of the groups we help get started do work with the tribe in some fashion, either as a spin-off from a tribal department, a subsidiary of the tribe and/or a place where the tribe invests assets for the growth of the organization. There could, however, be a grassroots movement to develop a Native CDFI without the direct involvement of the tribe(s) for a local, regional or larger market.

All Native CDFIs are in some way or another distinct from their Tribal government—a Tribe itself can’t become a certified CDFI. However, this can be achieved in a couple different ways. The vast majority of Native CDFIs are incorporated under the laws of either their state or Tribe. These organizations are governed by a board of directors and have specific language in their incorporating documents identifying them as nonprofits. They can then seek tax-exempt status from the IRS recognizing them as a 501(c)(3) organization. This is, in my mind, the easiest way to operate a Native CDFI, since many funders prefer to deal only with 501(c)(3) organizations. There isn’t a big difference between incorporating under the state or Tribe. Native CDFIs that incorporate under their Tribes generally do so as an expression of the Tribe’s sovereignty and self-determination. If your Tribe already has a nonprofit code and a well-functioning administration, it is generally fairly easy to adapt articles of incorporation and bylaws to fit both that code and the federal requirements of 501(c)(3) organizations. You can certainly ask the attorneys on your board about this option.

It is also possible to run a Native CDFI that is a program or subdivision of the Tribe—called a 7871 organization—but this is more rare.

You can check out the link below from FNDI to see some of the advantages and disadvantages of 7871s. Your Tribal attorneys may also know more.

What may not be 100% clear is this: if you are running your Native CDFI as a part of the Tribe (as opposed to a corporation created by the Tribe), you can’t get 501(c)(3) status. Tribes are tax exempt under IRC Section 7871, so there’s no way to or need to apply for tax exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3). The hard thing about this situation is that most foundations don’t understand Section 7871; they want the 501(c)(3) exemption letter they’re used to. So the ultimate effect is that it is harder to fund-raise as part of a Tribe rather than a corporation created under Tribal or State law.

There are many sources of funding for Native CDFIs throughout the country, and organizations like Oweesta, NCCA, CFED, the CDFI Fund, USDA and others offer clear suggestions for what route(s) you might take. Most of these same organizations also have money available in the form of investments and/or grants. There are also many foundations with programs emphasizing Native economic and housing development projects. Many groups with connections to their tribe have also received start-up funding from the tribe itself.
Oweesta focuses on building strong and viable Native CDFIs through training and technical assistance programs that include chartering and incorporation, infrastructure, governance, board/committee roles and responsibilities, capitalization, market studies, loan and financing policies, etc. We respond to specific requests for assistance at the local level, and adapt one-on-one sessions to specific needs of the organization and their stage of development. We will also employ consultants or experts on staff for fieldwork with a particular client if necessary. See our Training and Technical Assistance page for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions About Building Native Communities Curriculum

The curriculum was a combined effort of staff and consultants from First Nations Development Institute, Oweesta and Fannie Mae.
The curriculum can be ordered by calling 1-800-665-0012 and will usually be sent in batches of 25 student workbooks and one instructor guide. You can also order six- page colored brochures to share with your organization, board, tribal council, etc. It should be noted that recommended instructor-training workshops are held throughout the country by Oweesta trainers, so that instructors are completely familiar with all aspects of the curriculum and the process of setting up their own trainings before they order workbooks. Click here to download the curriculum workbooks, a resource guide and many other useful documents for research and planning.
Part of an organized schedule, instructor trainings take place throughout the year in various locations across the country. Special instructor training workshops can also be arranged right in your local community.
Oweesta has a cadre of highly experienced and professional trainers, some of whom were the first to pilot the curriculum years ago. This group continues to add techniques, coursework and peer trainers as the workshops continue.
The training workshops are normally two days in length. The lead instructor takes the group through each module including the EITC addendum, emphasizing techniques for planning, organizing and teaching their financial education program using the Building Native Communities, EITC and/or other curriculum addendeums. There are also workshops with a third day attached for grooming national or regional trainers. This optional, but integral, day is filled with lessons on becoming an instructor for train-the-trainer workshops so that you can go to your home location and spread the word and/or be able to teach at regional or national sessions in the future.
It is our intention at Oweesta and First Nations Development Institute to expand the BNC curriculum whenever possible to include more topic areas important to Native communities. One example of this is the recently completed Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) addendum workbook.