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Workshop promotes Native youth financial education

The presentations from a Fed-sponsored workshop illustrate a variety of promising approaches to Native financial education.

March 1, 2007


Richard M. Todd Former Vice President and Advisor to the CICD
Workshop promotes Native youth financial education

Last fall, the Minneapolis Fed organized an opportunity for educators to share their perspectives on teaching personal finance lessons to Native youth. The occasion was a workshop titled "Money Smart Native Youth: Sharing Lessons Learned in Native Financial Education." Although the event was hosted in the Ninth District, webinar technology enabled participants from across the country to join in the discussion of Native youth financial education programs.

The workshop was conducted as part of Money Smart Week Wisconsin (MSWW), a statewide initiative to promote financial education that was held October 2-7, 2006. In addition to the Minneapolis Fed and MSWW, workshop sponsors included the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, the Native Financial Education Coalition and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC) Extension Department. LCOOCC hosted the event at its campus near Hayward, Wis., and provided Internet and telephone facilities to open the event up to national participation via a simultaneous webinar. The webinar setup combined a teleconference of the discussion, an Internet slideshow of the speakers' presentations, and an instant-messaging service whereby participants could post questions and comments for all to see.

The workshop featured eight presentations organized into three sessions: financial education for Native youth in the K-12 school system, financial education for Native youth in extracurricular programs, and financial education directed to helping young Native people make a successful transition to adult life. Summaries of the eight presentations appear below. Taken together, the presentations illustrate a variety of promising approaches to Native financial education.

Session One: Financial education in the K-12 classroom setting

Helping students build skills and savings. Cora Mae Haskell opened the workshop's first session by describing her experiences as a personal finance teacher at E.A.G.L.E. Center, an alternative-learning high school on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Haskell's efforts began in the summer of 2005, with an invitation from the E.A.G.L.E. Center's principal. Her approach is to make the most of existing financial education resources while combining classroom lessons with hands-on activities. She bases much of her teaching on Visa's free, online Practical Money Skills for Life curriculum. The modules she covers include making financial decisions, budgeting, banking, credit and credit cards, saving and investing, car loans, advertising, and consumer awareness. To reinforce these concepts, she gives her students access to Mazaska K'sapa Nitawa (Your Money Wisdom), an individual development account (IDA) program of Four Bands Community Fund, Inc. The IDA program provides students with a 3-to-1 match on monthly savings of $25 to $75. The match is provided for 6 to 24 months to help students save for specific, approved goals. In addition, Haskell works with Wakpa Wasté (Good River), the local chapter of American Indian Business Leaders, to introduce her students to entrepreneurship. For more information about the Practical Money Skills for Life curriculum, visit

Pilot programs for Boys and Girls Clubs. Next, Brian Yazzie discussed the growth of Boys and Girls Clubs serving Native youth. Yazzie, who serves as director of Native American Services for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale (Ariz.) and is a member of the Salt River Indian Community, gave an enthusiastic account of pilot programs that adapted the clubs' Money Matters curriculum for Native clubs in Arizona and Nevada. The pilot's goals were twofold: first, to promote financial responsibility among teens 13-18 years of age by building their money management skills; and second, to help educate their family members on basic money management.

The pilot sites included Boys and Girls Clubs serving the following Native communities: Salt River Pima-Maricopa, located in Arizona; Gila River Pima and Maricopa, also located in Arizona; and the Walker River Paiutes and Moapa Band of Paiutes, both located in Nevada. Key components of the pilots were a personal finance guidebook for teens; a facilitator's guidebook; the Money Matters Web site; a volunteer program supported by employees of Schwab Bank, which also funded the development of the Money Matters curriculum; and a recognition and awards program. For more on adapting the Money Matters curriculum for Native youth, contact Yazzie at or Amy Staubs of First Pic Consulting, Inc. at

Posters help prompt tax refund boom. The final K-12 presentation featured unusual and dramatic evidence of financial education's positive effects. Wendell Waukau of the Menominee Indian School District in Wisconsin described how a poster contest for Menominee Indian High School (MIHS) students helped increase the Menominee community's participation in and net receipts from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program. The EITC, an income tax credit for low-income working families, is the federal government's largest antipoverty program.

In October 2005, students in MIHS' Family and Consumer Education program learned that many eligible, low-income working families on the reservation were not claiming the credits due to them. Those who did file for the EITC were opting for expensive refund anticipation loans (RALs) that reduced their net credits in return for an only slightly accelerated receipt of funds. With funding help from the local business community, MIHS offered the students prizes of up to $275 to create posters that would encourage low-income families to file for the EITC and use alternatives to expensive RALs. The tribal casino helped print the winning posters, which were featured in a community awareness campaign sponsored by a coalition of tribal financial educators, volunteer tax preparers and local credit union volunteers.

The combination of the students' posters and the broader awareness campaign appeared to yield strong results. In this low-income community, the number of federal tax refunds claimed rose from 81 for tax year 2004 to 335 for tax year 2005, and the dollar amount of total refunds rose from $86,000 to $457,054. EITC volume rose from $35,853 in 2004 to $187,147 in 2005. The use of volunteer tax preparation services increased, too, resulting in about $97,000 in savings from avoidance of RALS and other fees—a huge increase over the $22,275 saved in 2004. Finally, the increased awareness of the EITC helped bring many members of the Menominee community into the financial mainstream. Families claiming refunds and credits for 2005 opened a total of 100 new deposit or savings accounts. For more information on the Menominee poster contest, contact Wendell Waukau at, Sheila Siegel of the Internal Revenue Service at or Teresa Walker of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions at

Session Two: Financial education in extracurricular programs

Fun and finance. Both presentations in this session dealt with summer camp programs. Leading off was Joan Timeche, assistant director of Native Nations Institute (NNI) at The University of Arizona. She shared her experience with NNI's Native American Youth Entrepreneur Camp (NAYEC), which is held for six days each summer on the university's campus in Tucson. The high school juniors and seniors attending NAYEC have fun, but also study how to build private sector businesses in Indian Country. They visit Indian-owned businesses, talk to Native business owners and attend classroom instruction that includes writing a business plan, marketing, finance and management. Students apply their new skills by creating and running a retail business in the camp's Native American Youth Marketplace and presenting business plans to a panel of professional judges in the Business Plan Showcase, which makes "venture capital" awards of up to $100 to the top three contestants. More than 150 students from 16 tribes in the U.S. and Canada have attended NAYEC since the camp was founded in 2001. For more information about NAYEC, including registration information for 2007, visit

New camp teaches financial lessons. The second presentation on extracurricular programs focused on a new camp: the Adaawewigamig (Trading Post) track of the University of Minnesota's Ando-giikendaasowin Native American Math and Science (ANAMS) Summer Program. The camp's inaugural session was held on the university's Twin Cities campus in July 2006. Instructor Audra Highelk, who serves as a loan officer for the White Earth Investment Initiative in Ogema, Minn., adapted the Building Native Communities (BNC) curriculum from First Nations Development Institute (FNDI) for her teenage campers. Her teaching included skits, role playing, and both preplanned and student-designed games that dealt with positive and negative financial behaviors. Highelk reported that the students learned the material well, although the urban and rural campers approached some of the case studies from very different perspectives. For more information on ANAMS Summer Programs, including the new personal finance track, visit

Session Three: Financial education for youth making the transition from high school to adult life

Summer program preps students for college and adulthood. The remaining workshop session included presentations on three programs aimed at helping Native youth as they take on the responsibilities of young adulthood, such as postsecondary education, career choices and, in some cases, the effective management of tribal per capita payments. Jennifer Howe of Western Carolina University's Division of Educational Outreach began with a description of the Qualla Financial Freedom Program of the Eastern Cherokee. This six-week summer program prepared 15- to 17-year-old tribal members for college and independent living. They heard about wage income and tribal per capita payments and learned how each is taxed. They studied consumer and banking topics, including budgeting; debt management; purchasing and financing a car; investing; and the educational, housing, and medical insurance options available to them on and off the reservation. The students kept notes on each program, including contact information for individuals who can provide further information or help. By the end of the program, almost all of the students said they'd be comfortable contacting these individuals and programs for assistance in the future. For more on the Qualla Financial Freedom Program, visit

Newsletter helps young adults find their path. Susan White, director of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin's Oneida Trust/Enrollment Committee, followed with an explanation of how the committee uses its newsletter, The Pathfinder, to inspire young adults to handle their money responsibly. The committee is responsible for managing 3,800 trust funds for Oneida minors. The minors' funds are managed like a mutual fund invested for long-term growth. All account holders receive periodic account statements and quarterly copies of The Pathfinder. The newsletter updates account holders on how the trust funds are being managed and dispenses culturally relevant money-management advice written by an award-winning Oneida journalist. To view sample copies of The Pathfinder, visit

New curriculum is introduced. In the final presentation, Sarah Dewees of FNDI described Investing for the Future, the most recent addition to FNDI's BNC curriculum package. It's designed to teach the basics of investing and address the financial challenges and opportunities facing Native young adults, including general financial management, job searches, and the effective use of tribal per capita payments. The student workbook is available now and can be downloaded from Instructor training sessions and additional materials, including an instructor's guide, a resource guide, and an InvestNative Web site, are planned for 2007. For more information, contact Dewees at or sign up for the InvestNative listserv at

To view slideshows of the workshop presentations, visit the Web site of the Native Financial Education Coalition at