Friends and relatives, I hope you are doing well during this summer season. Our colleagues in Minneapolis and I are trying to make the most of the short summer months in a socially distanced way. Whenever possible, I’ve been camping with my family in beautiful Montana. While we at the Minneapolis Fed are working hard to serve Indian Country during these difficult and uncertain times, we wish you all the best in making the most of the season.
I began my tenure as Center for Indian Country Development’s (CICD’s) director speaking at RES in Las Vegas, where I shared some of our work and invited the audience to collaborate with us. In working to serve Indian Country, CICD depends on feedback and partners to ensure we are addressing the most serious challenges in the best way for tribes. Later at the conference, James Colombe hosted a panel on tribal homeownership featuring NAIHC Executive Director Anthony Walters; 1st Tribal Lending’s Juel Burnette; and Tawney Brunsch of Lakota Funds, who also serves on the Community Advisory Council for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Overall, RES was a fantastic opportunity to network and engage.
CICD has conducted two surveys of tribes and tribal enterprises affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data from the American Community Survey, Dr. Donna Feir showed that jobs in tribal communities and jobs held by tribal members are much more likely to be in the service sector, which is one of the industries most severely impacted by social distancing. Findings from the initial March survey showed tribes and tribal enterprises anticipating revenue decreases and staff cuts as a result of the pandemic. Findings from the second survey in April showed that respondents anticipated even greater impacts from COVID-19. At the time of the April survey, over 50 percent of all enterprise and government respondents had laid off or furloughed employees, with 30 percent of enterprises laying off or furloughing 80–100 percent of their workforce. As a result, revenue for enterprises and governments was down, while costs related to the public health crisis were up—with millions of dollars of standing, unmet capital needs. We hope that these results can help tribes advocate for policies that will address the impact of the virus.
CICD has been working hard to make sure that Indian Country is fully included in pandemic response programming. We consistently reached out to tribal leaders; lenders that serve tribes; and partners like NCAI, NAFOA, and the Native CDFI Network to learn about Indian Country’s credit needs due to COVID-19 and shared these needs broadly. Our outreach led to exciting changes to the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program (MSLP), which now allows tribal businesses that participate in the MSLP to make distributions to their tribes’ governments. This change honors the reality that tribes depend on tribal enterprise revenue to fund essential services. For more details, see the program’s FAQs.
Police violence has taken center stage in American discourse. Earlier this year, CICD summer fellow Matthew Harvey published a paper on fatal encounters between Native Americans and the police. Matthew found that, in the Federal Reserve’s Ninth District, Native American males have 14 times as many fatal encounters as White males, and that Native American females have 38 times as many fatal encounters as White females. Violent discrimination against Indigenous people is an ongoing reality and must be considered in a full accounting of the economic challenges facing tribal communities.
Minneapolis Community Development and Engagement staff member Michou Kokodoko has worked on community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and Native CDFIs for years. Michou hosted a panel at the Oweesta conference where Washington and Lee University economics professor Joseph Guse presented research showing that Native CDFIs are correlated with increased credit scores in the tribal communities they serve. Native CDFIs are important vehicles for credit in tribal communities, and CICD looks forward to supporting more research on the impact of Native CDFIs and best practices.
This summer, CICD is proud to work with interns Charles Golding and Ryan Running Crane. We’re sad to see Dr. Donna Feir move on to the University of Victoria but look forward to continuing to work with her on Indigenous economic research as our new CICD Research Fellow. Also, on July 20 we welcomed new team member Heather Sobrepena, who previously led the Office of Indian Country Economic Development at the Montana Department of Commerce. She’ll make great contributions to our work on Indigenous policy.
We wish you all the best in the months ahead. Economic and public health challenges will likely continue in Indian Country, and we at CICD intend to do our best to address them.
Casey Lozar (Salish Kootenai)
Vice President, Director of Center for Indian Country Development