Two Native Community Development Financial Institutions Honored for Achievements in Helping Build Native Economies

Albuquerque, N.M. // Two Native opportunity finance institutions were honored last evening for their commitment to community development and asset building in Native communities at the 2008 Native Awards Ceremony, part of the 5th Annual Native CDFI Convening hosted by Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) and First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta).

The Circle of Honor award recognizes a Native community development financial institution (CDFI) that strives to increase capital and access to financial resources in Native communities by developing innovative loan products, technical assistance services, and overcoming challenges. This year’s winner of the Circle of Honor award was Four Bands Community Fund, a certified Native CDFI located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation (Lakota) in South Dakota. Four Bands was honored for its strong financial performance, its focus on building new relationships with partners to continue the growth of the organization, and its activities at the local, regional, and national levels to support emerging Native CDFIs. Accepting the award on behalf of Four Bands were staff members Tanya Fiddler, Executive Director and Wynona Traversie, Program & Lending Director; and board members Mary Olive Johnson, Secretary and Jill Kessler, Director.

The Visionary Leader award recognizes a person who embodies a long‐term contribution to the Native CDFI industry, and whose local asset building efforts make them an inspiration for others as the Native CDFI industry grows and moves forwards. John Smith, Executive Director of Nii Jii Capital Partners, Inc. received the 2008 Visionary Leader award for his work creating the building blocks for a financially strong Native CDFI that encompasses three tribes in a geographically remote area. Nii Jii Capital Partners, Inc. , located in Wisconsin, is a partnership between the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake.

“The efforts of Four Bands Community Fund and John Smith exemplify how innovative and strategic efforts lead to growth and development in Native communities,” said Elsie Meeks, President and CEO of Oweesta. “These organizations empower their communities to grow around the ideas of self‐sufficiency, asset building, financial literacy, and homeownership, all of which help Native families and communities thrive. CDFIs across the country have proven their stability and financial worth, especially in these economic times, and Native CDFIs and leaders like these are fast becoming part of that stable economic fabric in our Native communities.”

“Native CDFIs are doing remarkable work under incredibly challenging circumstances. The Awardees represent the best of the best in these challenging times,” said Opportunity Finance Network President & CEO Mark Pinsky. “Lending and development opportunities in Indian Country are still limited and CDFIs are vital in offering access to capital.”

The awards ceremony capped off an important week of events during OFN’s 24th Annual Conference where Native economic development practitioners and tribal representatives from across the country joined hundreds of other opportunity finance experts to share and learn about new ideas, strategies for change, and innovations from the field.