Building Community through Finance: A Wisconsin Native CDFI’s Story

Photo by Jonne Huotari on Unsplash This article is the fifth in a series of articles that NPQ is publishing in partnership with First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). The series, which will conclude next week, aims to highlight leading economic justice work in Indian Country and identify ways that philanthropy might more effectively support these efforts. Native CDFIs ( community development financial institutions ) are lenders operated by and serving Native American communities. In the first round after the CDFI Fund launched in the mid-1990s, the number of certified Native CDFIs was two . Today, there are 69. Even so, enormous gaps remain. The national Native CDFI Network , on whose board I serve as vice chair, reports that 23 states are still without Native CDFIs. An estimated 86 percent of Native communities still lack a single financial institution. But our movement is growing rapidly, and there’s a promising road ahead.

I have committed nearly 15 years of my life to this movement thus far. I was the founding CEO for 14 years of the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund (WINLF), whose mission is to advance financial self-sufficiency for Native American communities statewide. I now work at the Oweesta Corporation, a national Native CDFI intermediary, where I manage partnerships with Native CDFIs across the country, including WINLF. Here I will focus on my experiences at WINLF, including the changes that COVID required.

WINLF began in 2007 in Lac du Flambeau, a small rural community of roughly 2,000 people that is home […]

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