Local Impact
CDFIs Promote Young People's Financial Capability in Native American Communities

The following was originally posted on Treasury's Notes Blog.

April is Financial Capability Month and a perfect time to highlight programs like the Native Community Development Financial Institutions (Native CDFIs), which are successfully improving the financial literacy and capability of young people in Indian Country. Native CDFIs are specialized financial institutions who work to increase access to fair and affordable financial services in Native Communities, and many are offering innovative financial education programs for Native youth.

One example is the Mini-Bank Program, established in Browning, Montana, by NACDC Financial Services, Inc. Since 1996 the program has not only offered financial education to young people, but also has provided a mini-bank in their own schools to give them hands-on experience in money management. The students can open a savings account at their mini-bank with a deposit of three dollars, and while a mini-bank coordinator accepts and records the deposits, the students have sole ownership of their accounts and are responsible for maintaining them. The Mini-Bank Program has grown to serve six reservations in three states, and has created more than 670 youth savings accounts with deposits totaling more than $40,000.

 In Eagle Butte, South Dakota, Making Waves is a financial literacy program offered by Four Bands Community Fund, a Native CDFI that serves the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Like all of Four Bands’ programs, Making Waves reflects a Lakota model called Icahya Woecun—the place to grow. The curriculum has been designed by Four Bands to promote the basics of financial literacy, including budgeting, saving, and asset building, and is presented through the reservation’s schools to students in grades K-12. The program also offers training in entrepreneurship, as well as an internship program for budding entrepreneurs and Wavemaker Scholarships for young people who are committed to increasing their financial skills. More than 2,000 young people have participated in Making Waves.

The Mini-Bank Program and Making Waves are just two examples of the ways that Native CDFIs are promoting economic development in Native Communities by helping people master the financial skills they need to build assets and become self-sufficient. Today, there are 70 certified Native CDFIs throughout the United States, 10 times more than the original seven that existed when the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) began focusing on Native Communities in 2001. The CDFI Fund has supported the creation and expansion of Native CDFIs as they serve their communities. For more information, please visit the CDFI Fund’s website and view the CDFI Fund’s Native Initiatives Fact Sheet.

Annie Donovan is the Director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund at the U.S. Treasury Department.