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The Rolling Rez: Giving “Mobile Banking” a New Meaning

Every two weeks, on Tribal Pay Days, when the Tribe (the largest employer on the Pine Ridge Reservation) disperses paychecks, a brightly painted bus pulls up. The Rolling Rez is a bank on wheels that travels the fifty miles from Kyle to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and services Tribal employees with their banking needs. People have access to cash, deposit their paychecks, sign loan documents, open accounts – virtually everything a local branch does.

The Rolling Rez bus is a joint initiative started in 2012 by Lakota Federal Credit UnionLakota FundsFirst Peoples Fund, and Artspace that brings banking to people. The Pine Ridge Reservation, a sprawling community 70 miles wide, covering more than 2.8 million acres of land, is home to more than 28,000 people. “We like to say the rez is about twice the size of the state of Delaware,” said Shayna Ferguson, CEO and President of Lakota Federal Credit Union (LFCU). Unlike Delaware, which has 36 banks with over 200 branches scattered throughout the state, Lakota Federal Credit Union is the first and only federally-insured banking institution on the reservation.

Pine Ridge Reservation is also one of the poorest communities in the nation. “More than half the population lives below the poverty line; how can people afford gas to get to a credit union?” said Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director at Lakota Funds. The challenges they saw inspired Brunsch and Ferguson to get creative with their servicing. The Rolling Rez is essential for reaching people in distant areas, especially on paydays. “It’s important to catch people when they have that check in hand, and hopefully it’s deposited or saved or used to repay a loan,” added Brunsch. The strength of the credit union’s membership is a testament to how invaluable accessible banking is. “When we first chartered the credit union, we projected we would have 1000 members in two years. We blew that number out of the water within six months,” shared Ferguson. “Today, we have 3,500 members; it shows how much of a need LFCU is.”

Lakota Federal Credit Union started after the Lakota Funds team saw the need to provide Tribal members with essential banking services, like a checking and savings account. Established in 1986, Lakota Funds is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) offering business loans paired with technical assistance and financial education classes. They are also the first native CDFI dedicated to promoting economic sustainability on the Pine Ridge Reservation. They recognized a credit union would be an asset to Tribal members and agreed to sponsor the credit union in 2009.

“We wanted to give community members access to wealth-building education and access to the products – mortgage loans, checking and savings accounts, consumer loans – that build wealth,” shared Brunsch. Two and a half years after the chartering process began, the doors to the first federally insured depository institution on the reservation were opened.

Like many services, the Rolling Rez was a victim of covid-19 when the generator broke down, and replacement parts couldn’t be sourced for about two months, leaving the bus temporarily out of service. “This made us realize how dependent Pine Ridge is on the mobile banking services,” shared Brunsch. “We ordered a second bus to double up on access and services.” The second bus will amplify LFCU’s efforts. While the first bus is shared with Artspace, the second bus will be wholly owned and operated by LFCU. This will allow them to drive the bus five days a week and expand to the Rosebud Reservation, a neighboring reservation of over 11,000 people who don’t have a bank or credit union yet.

(This story was originally featured in Forbes, through the Partners for Rural Transformation EQ Brand Voice partnership.)

Oweesta Presents Our New Branding

Over the past 20 years, Oweesta’s purpose and programming has been adapting to address the ever-evolving needs of Indian Country. Last year, we made perhaps the most significant step for our future when we spun off from our parent organization. We figured this momentous step required us to adopt a new visual identity that would carry us into the future.

The rebranding process was lengthy, time-consuming and very thoughtful as we envisioned Oweesta in the decades to come. Oweesta is inherently Native – established in response to Native needs, founded by Native leaders, and deeply-rooted in Native economies. When we were founded, we existed in a category of our own as an intermediary Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Our role has remained steadfast throughout the decades as we help build the financial capability and opportunity for Tribal nations and redirect the flows of capital from mainstream institutions into Native CDFIs. We wanted a visual representation that captured our essence as a Native organization as well as our role as a bridge builder and collaborator in the economic development industry.

We are thrilled to share this new look with you. At the heart of our visual identity is our logo. Buffalo have incredible individual strength, but they gather their primary power by acting as a collective. Buffalo are also held incredibly sacred to many Tribes as their existence ensured the strength and survival of people. We felt that buffalo are an adept representation of our organization and our Native CDFIs who ensure the continued prosperity for their respective tribal communities. We also incorporated seven arrows within our circular design representing the seven generations and the continuance of the circle of life.

We are excited to step into the next chapter with an identity that honors our spirit, values, and commitment to the Native CDFI movement. As we look to the future, we are invigorated to work with you all as we breathe life into our new tagline: “Redefining Equity. Reclaiming Native Sovereignty. Together.”

Rebuilding in Hawai’i

Oweesta Corporation Selected for the Community Navigator Initiative to Support Native Business Resiliency

Following a hub-and-spoke model, Oweesta and twenty-seven Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) partners will provide training and technical assistance to Native businesses and entrepreneurs thanks to a $5M U.S. Small Business Administration grant.

Longmont, CO – Oweesta has been awarded one of eight Tier-1 national grants of $5 million as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Community Navigator Pilot Program aimed at reaching small businesses for stronger economic recovery efforts. Following a hub-and-spoke model, Oweesta is partnering with twenty-seven Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to serve Native businesses and entrepreneurs on reservations and urban environments across seventeen states.

Acting as a “hub,” Oweesta will serve as a centralized, lead organization and leverage our long-standing relationships with grassroots Native CDFIs as “spokes.” Oweesta will be partnering with the regional CDFI, MoFI, to provide training and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for Native CDFIs participating in the program. Through this model, government resources will be more effectively distributed to reach small business owners and entrepreneurs. Research shows that the amount of Native-owned business is scarce in today’s market due to structural barriers Native businesses and entrepreneurs face in business ownership and creation. Rooted within the communities, Native CDFIs are instrumental in reaching underserviced Native communities and providing culturally relevant, economic development services.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized building our small business ecosystems back better so that all of our entrepreneurs have a fair shot at achieving the American dream of business ownership,” said Administrator Guzman. “We need to meet businesses where they are with resources to start, grow and be resilient, and the Community Navigator Pilot Program will power a trusted network of community partners to connect America’s entrepreneurs with the SBA. The program’s Community Navigators will develop strong relationships with deeply trusted community-based organizations that will tap into one-on-one, targeted support from programs designed to help them create jobs and drive innovation.”

Through this grant, Oweesta and the twenty-seven Native CDFI spokes will provide additional business management training and technical assistance, including business planning, financial statement preparation, and marketing assistance. “Native CDFIs have long been the backbone of small business support in their communities. Oweesta is proud to partner with our Native CDFI partners, MoFI, and the Small Business Administration to increase access to technical assistance and training for Native entrepreneurs around the country,” said Chrystel Cornelius, CEO of the Oweesta Corporation.

Read the full SBA statement.

Use this interactive map to learn more about the Native CDFI Spokes.

Complete List of the 27 Native CDFI Spokes

Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Financial ServicesMvskoke Loan Fund, Inc.
Akiptan, IncNACDC Financial Services, Inc
Bank of Cherokee CountyNakoda Aaniiih Credit Agency
Black Hills Community Loan Fund, Inc.Native360 Loan Fund, Inc.
Chehalis Tribal Loan FundNative American Development Corporation
Chi Ishobak, IncNiiJii Capital Partners
Citizen Potawatomi Community Development CorporationNimiipuu Community Development Fund
Cook Inlet Lending CenterNorthwest Native Development Fund
First American Capital CorporationPlenty Doors Community Development Corporation
Four Bands Community FundSequoyah Fund
Four Directions Development CorporationTaala Fund
Hawaiian Lending and InvestmentsWaianae Economic Development Council
HoChunk Community Capital, Inc.Wisconsin Native Loan Fund
Montana Native Growth Fund

Oweesta Presents our Campaign “When Money is Red”

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oweesta is launching a campaign called When Money is Red that will run on our social media platforms throughout the month of November for Native American Heritage Month.

When Money is Red is a campaign that envisions the possibilities of investing in Indian Country. We have witnessed firsthand in our role as a Native CDFI intermediary that when armed with the appropriate resources, Native peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of their communities. The problem is Native people and issues continue to be invisible in the mainstream.

With this campaign, Oweesta will revisit the problematic history of wealth creation in this country, highlight the ongoing policy issues that keep Native people from fulfilling their economic destiny, and pose calls to action for policymakers, philanthropic institutions, and the general public alike to honor and celebrate our continued place in history and in this country.

We chose the name When Money is Red as a twist on the history of wealth creation across most of the developed world. Colonization brought on the genocide of First peoples and the destruction of culture and land, and modern-day policies and prejudices perpetuate those colonist practices. We will look to subvert the history of blood money in this country and build power towards economic justice for Indian Country.

This Native American Heritage Month, we want to make it clear: Indigenous people are not relics of the past; we are present, we persist, and we will recreate our futures. We can’t change the narrative alone. We invite you to join the movement:

  1. Join our mailing list to follow our campaign When Money is Red.
  2. Support the campaign using the Partner Toolkit.
  3. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for upcoming programming and conversations around making money red.
  4. Attend the Indigenous Community Organizing & Storytelling virtual event featuring Oweesta.

In Solidarity,
Oweesta Corporation

Oweesta Releases Two Groundbreaking Reports on the Native CDFI Industry

Oweesta is thrilled to release two groundbreaking reports that provide an in-depth look at the Native CDFI industry. Both of these reports are part of our commitment to share best practices, key findings, and successful or promising models widely.

Native CDFI Financial and Lending Performance Report

Our Native CDFI Financial and Lending Performance Report looks at the health of our lending portfolio and offers an insightful synopsis, backed by data, of the overall strength of investing in Indian Country. We plan to produce this report on a yearly basis as a tool for Native CDFIs to understand how their operations and financial performance sits in comparison with their peers, in order to guide decision-making at their organization. The report includes:

  • Synthesized quarterly borrower reporting data from 28 Native CDFIs and one Native CDFI banking institution.
  • An analysis of investments across loan type (business, consumer, housing, and agriculture) and/or asset size.
  • Data that supports the belief when armed with the appropriate resources, Native peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual, and cultural well-being of their communities.

A special thanks to our partners and borrowers for sharing their borrower information on a quarterly basis, and to Northwest Area Foundation for sponsoring this report.

Housing Market Study

Oweesta’s study Opportunities and Challenges for Native CDFI Housing Lenders: Innovative Mortgage Lending Solutions in Native Communities provides an in-depth exploration of the housing market in Indian Country. Looking at surveys and data analysis, the report paints a clear picture of Native CDFI’s crucial role in developing the housing landscape on tribal trust lands and beyond. The report includes:

  • An analysis of institutional challenges as well as the creative solutions undertaken by Native CDFIs to overcome those challenges.
  • Actionable recommendations for Native CDFIs and partners to adapt to the growing demand for housing.

Oweesta is grateful to the many partners and contributors to this report and Freddie Mac for funding the research behind this report.

Oweesta Welcomes Fern Orie as Chief Programs Officer and Executive Vice President of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships

Longmont, CO – Oweesta is pleased to announce that Fern Orie has joined the organization as Chief Programs Officer and Executive Vice President of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships. In this capacity, Orie will serve as a critical member of the executive leadership team and will lead Oweesta’s strategic efforts to impact national policy to expand capital access for Native communities, strengthen our private and public partnerships, and oversee Oweesta’s capacity building efforts in support of our Native CDFI partners.

“I’m excited to join Oweesta after working in partnership with them at the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund all of these years. Leading the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund, I experienced how Native CDFIs are agents of change and are the most powerful resources to help communities thrive. It is an honor to now support the broader Native CDFI movement on a national level,” said Fern Orie.

Orie brings 20 years of experience working in the Native housing and community development industry. She recently served as the founding CEO of the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund (WINLF) for the past fourteen years, where she established a statewide housing Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) providing housing, consumer, and business loans to tribal members on all eleven Wisconsin Indian Reservations. Since 2015 she has served as the founding Chairwoman of the Wisconsin Indian Business Alliance, a unique collaboration of the four Native CDFIs of Wisconsin. Additionally, Orie serves on the Board of Directors as the Vice Chairwoman of the national organization, the Native CDFI Network.

“Oweesta is excited to have Fern join the team at a time when Native CDFIs are increasingly becoming vital lifelines for financial recovery of their communities,” said Chrystel Cornelius, CEO and President of Oweesta. “Fern has been a fierce champion of the Native CDFI industry for decades; we are confident her experience and passion will help carry Oweesta forward as we work to drive $100M of capital into Native communities by 2030.”

Orie is a strong advocate for the cultural and economic prosperity of Native people in her home state of Wisconsin and has served as an ambassador of Indian Country at the national levels. She was appointed by the Governor to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Committee, and the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy and Capability. She also serves on the Wisconsin Economic Development Association Board of Directors. In addition, she sits on the Board of Directors and Loan Committee of Bay Bank, a tribally owned bank, and on the Forward Community Investments New Markets Tax Credit Advisory Board. Fern serves on the Program Advisory Committee for the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College and also the Community Advisory Committee for Associated Bank. Orie holds a B.A. in Business Administration and is a certified Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP) through the National Development Council. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

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Media Contact
Denisse Ruiz
Communications Officer
denisse@oweesta.org