Financial literacy workbook leads national movement

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - A financial literacy workbook for Natives has gone through a printing of 18,000 copies in a major push for Indian country. The related education course has trained 500 instructors in 33 separate workshops in 30 tribal communities around the country.

And next year will see a financial literacy policy development forum in the spring, five more "train the trainers" sessions, and a follow-on course of homebuyer education, attendees of the Federal Reserve Board's recent "Banking Opportunities in Indian Country" symposium here heard.

Elsie Meeks, Lakota, executive director of First Nations Oweesta Corp. said FNOC's parent, First Nations Development Corp., Fredericksburg, Va., and the Washington, DC-based Fannie Mae Foundation developed "Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families" to enhance the capacity of tribes and Native people to access, use and retain financial assets.

According to Meeks, the course provides information Native families can use to manage budgets, operate businesses, save money, learn about credit and checking, and get approved for mortgages.

It has been designed to draw on traditional ways and relate them to financial literacy skills. For example, Meeks likened traditional food storage to saving money.

The 500 instructors already trained now will deliver the course in their own areas, she said. The train-the-trainers sessions have been mostly in the Western states, but have also included Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Arkansas.

First Nations now runs a "Native American Financial Literacy Coalition" that was started in 2000 by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The homebuyer education curriculum that is now in development (for a planned rollout in mid-2003) will follow the same format as the First Nations course, but is being developed by the National Congress of American Indians, the National American Indian Housing Council and others.

NCAI consultant Joanna Donohoe quoted a study by Freddie Mac, the big Reston, Va.-based mortgage agency, to the effect that borrowers with homebuyer education are 13 percent less likely ever to become 60 days delinquent on a mortgage.

Donohoe told the Federal Reserve symposium that homebuyer education is especially important in Indian country, since many Indians are first-generation homebuyers, have been "trapped" in the mentality of federal subsidized housing, have limited experience with conventional banking, have a limited understanding of credit and have little savings.

The course will be anchored in Native values and views of shelter, she said.

The homebuyer education course will consist of a participant workbook, instructor workbook, instructor tool kit, training curriculum and promotional brochures. It currently is being piloted at the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho and several pueblos in New Mexico.

The workbook will target areas such as assessing readiness for home buying, selecting a home, getting a mortgage and maintaining the home.

Indian-targeted topics will include land status, BIA trust responsibility, sovereignty and Indian loan products.

Training the-trainer venues will include the annual Oweesta conference of First Nations, the Training Institute of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., NAIHC's Leadership Institute, NCAI conferences and Native Homeownership Summits held by the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Native American Programs (ONAP).

Donohoe also pointed to a homebuyer education course developed by the Navajo Partnership for Housing in St. Michael's, Ariz. as a model for national curricula.

The "Sheltering Our People" course puts 500 people through an eight-hour program annually and refers 35 to 45 of them to lenders for mortgages.

If a tribe starts a homebuyer education program, according to Donohoe, it should involve dedicating staff to the effort, identifying a curriculum to use, getting training for the local counselor, a decision on whether to provide classroom training or one-on-one, offer pre-purchase as well as post-purchase assistance and early intervention in case of borrower delinquency.