Programs and Initiatives
Program Notes: Checking in with Native Initiatives

As we come to the end of National Native Heritage Month, I want to take a moment to highlight the CDFI Fund’s recent activities dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities nationwide.

I recently was honored to participate in the 2016 Native Convening in Atlanta. It was an opportunity to have a fantastic, engaged conversation around community development in Native Communities and the work of Native Community Development Financial Institutions (Native CDFIs).

One of the topics for the Convening was the new “Access to Capital and Credit in Native Communities” report (the Report), commissioned by the CDFI Fund and published by the Native Nations Institute with support from the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. The CDFI Fund commissioned the Report as a follow-up to its 2001 Native American Lending Study, which analyzed access to capital and financial services in Native Communities, identified barriers to access, and provided options to address the barriers.

At the Convening, I found that the Report sparked discussion around how we can better coordinate with Tribal entities and governments and encourage the development of Native entrepreneurs, as well as the overall state of the Native CDFI industry.

One of the key takeaways from the new Report is that while barriers to capital and credit still exist in Native Communities, Native CDFIs are playing a critical role in raising the financial capability of their communities and increasing local access to credit. Native CDFIs are truly making a difference.

I am proud of that, and of the role the CDFI Fund has played in supporting the growth and ability of Native CDFIs to provide critical financial services, business and homeownership loans, and financial education in Native Communities.

The Report also found that data on financial barriers and financial services in these communities is still difficult to come by, which will be a challenge for the CDFI Fund and for CDFIs going forward. We are making progress on that front, however. In 2016, the CDFI Fund awarded First Nations Oweesta Corporation a prize through our 2016 CDFI Prize Competition for their proposal to develop Opportunities Through Impact System (OTIS), an impact tracking platform designed specifically for Native CDFIs. The goal of the OTIS platform is to provide the technological resources - combined with the technical assistance of First Nations Oweesta - to help Native CDFIs demonstrate their impact in their communities. I look forward to seeing what they are able to achieve.

I believe the Report will continue to drive discussion about the best ways to spur economic growth in Native Communities, and the CDFI Fund is thoughtfully considering the Report’s findings as we plan our initiatives for the next few years.

I don’t want us to lose sight of what we have achieved so far, however. We are still finding success and impact with our Native American CDFI Assistance Program (NACA Program). We had eleven first-time awardees in the 2016 round of the NACA Program - a sizable achievement considering there were only 38 awardees in total. And our "Building Native CDFI's Sustainability and Impact" training series, which wrapped up in 2016, provided more than 2,300 hours of direct technical assistance and coaching to Native CDFIs. As we look to 2017 and beyond, I am dedicated to providing quality training and assistance to Native CDFIs, and to finding new ways we can encourage economic growth and prosperity in Native Communities nationwide.

Be sure to check out the "Access to Capital and Credit in Native Communities" report and the CDFI Fund’s Strategic Plan to learn more.

Amber Kuchar-Bell is the CDFI Fund's Program Manager for the CDFI Program and Native Initiatives