HOLLYWOOD — Tanya Sangrey tears up when she talks about jobs and the economy at the Yurok Tribe in northwestern California.

Attendees at the Oweesta Native Community Development Finance Fundamentals Week came from tribes across the U.S. to the Native Learning Center in Hollywood. (Courtesy Native Learning Center)

“My mission is to create jobs and a sustainable income for my tribe,” Sangrey said. “I take it very seriously.”

Sangrey has made headway during her eight years as director of the Yurok Tribe Economic Development Corp. She and her team have seen the creation of two Fuel Marts, five RV parks, a hotel, restaurants, casino, mobile home park and a butterfly farm, among other projects.

But Sangrey wants more, including housing options for many of the Tribe’s 6,500 members.

“We want to build homes for them and bring them back,” she said of those who currently live off the reservation. Sangrey thinks the knowledge gained at a recent Seminole Tribe of Florida-hosted training will help.

Sangrey was one of 19 attendees representing tribes across the U.S. at the Oweesta Native Community Development Finance Fundamentals Week, held at the Native Learning Center (NLC) in Hollywood.

The four-day training covered a lot of ground, namely a deep dive into the world of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). These institutions are private organizations focused on bringing economic opportunities to communities.

Native CDFIs (NCDFI) were the focus of this particular training, which took place May 8 to 11.

The lead trainers were Lanelle Smith and Heather Rademacher Taylor, both officials with First Nations Oweesta Corp., based in Longmont, Colorado. Oweesta is a Mohawk word meaning “money or item of exchange.” Oweesta is a subsidiary of the First Nations Development Institute.

Smith has extensive experience in CDFIs. Prior to becoming a program manager with Oweesta, she ran an NCDFI on the Navajo Nation in the southwestern U.S. Smith and Taylor were also joined by Lisa Wagner, a principal for Bluestem Consulting in Buffalo, Wyoming.

“With the changes in the growing field of the Native CDFI industry, we feel that the Fundamentals Week is an important training to continue to grow the capacity of both individual Native CDFIs and the industry as a whole,” Smith said.

Attendees represented the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Shoshone Tribe of Idaho, Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, the Oneida Tribe in Wisconsin, the Navajo Nation and the aforementioned Yurok Tribe, among others.

While the trainers admitted it was easy to get bogged down in a stew of acronyms, in a nutshell, the idea of a NCDFI is to offer those in Indian Country access to capital. The money can go toward a small business or a housing project and comes in a number of forms from micro-loans to more traditional and larger loans.

Attendees were given information about many subjects, from how to become a certified CDFI to financial management, public policy, loan underwriting and policies, portfolio management and business models.

There is an entire human resources side to becoming a CDFI, which includes hiring loan officers, project managers, chief financial officers, bookkeepers and administrative assistants. The HR side also entails putting together a governing board of directors.

Each NCDFI differs in the mission and projects it takes on in its respective community.

Whitney Burns, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe at Fort Hall, Idaho, said she came to the training not knowing what to expect.

“We just barely got approved to get a CDFI; we’re just starting up,” Burns, who works in the Tribal Housing Opportunities Program, said.

“We want to help tribal members to get qualified for their own home mortgages for moderate to higher incomes,” she said. “A lot of members are no longer lower income.”

Part of that help is to promote the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program from Housing and Urban Development. The HUD loan is designed for American Indian communities.

Burns planned to go back and help members navigate all the departments of homeownership, including building from the ground up and home rehabilitation. She wants to be a conduit for banks to help with the lending process.

“People sometimes don’t know where to start,” Burns said. “Our passion for this is why we’re here. You can’t just give someone a loan and wish for the best.”

Burns said her department is in the process of hiring a CDFI program manager.

At the end of the week, attendees were given a certification exam to become certified NCDFI practitioners.

“I feel like participants came into the week with a lot of questions that [were answered] about what a Native CDFI is and what it can do for their community,” said Taylor. “I also feel like we’re really building a strong foundation for them to develop Native CDFIs that will serve the needs of their community members with accessible capital and associated development services.”

The Native Learning Center also hosted a grants management training program from May 2 to 3. The NLC offers free training and technical assistance to Native Americans and those working within Indian Country.

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