I attended the Native Capital Access Convening in Seattle at the end of May. Held at the University of Washington’s Intellectual House, a Native longhouse, the event gathered approximately 80 people from 55 Native CDFIs, foundations, funders, partners, and investors. Attendees participated in collaborative discussions on effective strategies for accessing capital, as well as networking opportunities for potential partnership and collaboration. First Nations Oweesta Corporation, an OFN member CDFI, and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement hosted the event.
Over the course of two days, recurring themes echoed those shared across the entire CDFI industry, while others were specific to Native experiences and communities. Below are some that resonated with me (and Oweesta’s Facebook page has videos of some of the discussions):
- Many participants commented on the role of spirituality and community and the importance of long and lasting relationships to effect powerful change in communities throughout Indian Land and Hawaii. Discussion emphasized the commonality of experience between Indian Land peoples and Native Hawaiians, while it also celebrated the diversity of language, culture, and experience among them.
- I was sobered to hear a dispassionate, fact-based retelling of the intentional genocide and cultural erosion of Native peoples in Hawaii and on the mainland. This destruction was accomplished through explicit policy directives regarding land ownership, education, health, and economic opportunity. Although this is not a new story, it really gives pause.
- As is true of many unbanked and underserved communities, access to responsible, affordable capital is a considerable challenge among Native CDFIs and Native communities. Some Native CDFIs commented on the need for affordable, patient capital while they build their loan portfolios. Others highlighted that Native communities with significant numbers of very low-income people are particularly vulnerable to predatory lenders.
- Attendees spoke of an acute need for capacity building in developing sustainable business models at the organizational level and technical assistance support at the borrower level. They also cited a strong demand for products and services that strengthen financial resilience for very low-income borrowers, including credit building programs, payday lender alternatives, and matched savings accounts.
- Many of the speakers highlighted the importance of partnerships, coalitions, and alliances in filling financing gaps and building Native CDFI lending capacity. Natalie Charley of Taala Fund, a Native CDFI that promotes private business development and asset building on the Quinault Indian Reservation and among Quinault Tribal Members, and Mike Dickerson of Craft3, a CDFI serving communities in Oregon and Washington, shared an excellent example. Craft3 provided lending training to the Taala Fund when it was founded by the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN). In addition to providing technical training to QIN, Craft3 also helped the Taala Fund build its pipeline by shared some loan deals.
This convening was part of Oweesta’s Native Capital Access Initiative, which aims to enhance the capacity of participating organizations to secure capital and meet an unsatisfied financing demand within Indian Country.