Hattie Mitchell (Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation), a certified public accountant, recently joined AMERIND Risk as the Director of Finance. Highlights of Ms. Mitchell’s impressive resume include being elected and serving as Tribal Council Treasurer for her tribe in 2012. In 2013, she was elected as a “40 under 40” emerging leader in Indian Country by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. In April 2017, she was elected Treasurer of the Native American Financial Officers Association (NAFOA) Board.
The American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) has a long-standing partnership with AMERIND Risk through sponsorships that support scholarships for American Indian students.
AMERIND is dedicated to recruiting and retaining Native American professionals. AIGC had a chance to interview Ms. Mitchell about her first impressions at AMERIND Risk and the importance of higher education.
AIGC: What were your first impressions of AMERIND?
Mitchell: AMERIND’s values are aligned with my values, which made it easy to transition into the company. I came just in time for the company retreat where the team reaffirmed the mission and values of AMERIND. The mission is easy to remember, “Tribes Protecting Tribes,” and most of (if not all) the employees already knew what it was, because it’s on the building, the walls, and anything else we can see.
AIGC: What is the role AMERIND plays in Indian Country?
Mitchell: I have worked for other Native companies and most of them agree that the company should support Native businesses to keep money in Indian Country. Here at AMERIND, I’ve seen firsthand diligence in buying from Native American vendors.
One of the commitments that stands out is AMERIND is generous to tribes and Native American nonprofits through charitable contributions and service throughout Indian Country. Additionally, the AMERIND workforce is largely made up of members of many Tribes. It’s a great feeling to be a part of a team that is representative of Indian Country, working together to help other Tribes.
AIGC: How do you see yourself carrying out AMERIND's vision?
Mitchell: As Director of Finance, I’ll be instrumental in helping AMERIND achieve its mission at the heart of its services: keeping money in Indian Country. We are driven by our commitment to advance the sustainability of Indian Country. Additionally, through my experiences and knowledge gained as Treasurer of the NAFOA Board, I will serve as a vital resource to both AMERIND Risk and Indian Country at large.
AIGC: How important was higher education in your career?
Mitchell: When I was just starting out in college I had no idea what major to declare. After much thought I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a leader for my Tribe. Then the next questions was: “What do I need to do to get there?” After seeking advice from my teachers and mentors, a mentor guided me to take more accounting and finance classes. He told me, “If you are going to be a leader for your Tribe you will need to learn how to read and understand financial statements. When you look at the financial statements, it tells a story, a story about how you are doing and where you are going.”
In the 1990s, my mother was elected to Tribal Treasurer for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. As a teenager, I would see my mom carry out her duties such as processing payroll and paying the bills for the Tribe. One day, we were on a drive on the reservation and she took me to the site where the casino was going to be built. It was hard for me to believe that empty field was going to be turned into a casino let alone that I would become the person that helps approve the budgets, expansions and hires the board of directors to oversee it on behalf of my Tribe. Gaming brought more paved roads, more buildings and money to be invested for the future. Tribal business is more complex now than it was when my mother was Tribal Treasurer. Now the Tribe has a 20-member staff to carry out all the necessary financial duties.
There’s not a “how-to manual” per se on how to become a Tribal leader; most of it comes from experience. My higher education taught me how to analyze financial statements, which has assisted me to make more informed decisions.
AIGC: What advice do you have for students pursuing financial careers?
Mitchell: I have obtained my undergraduate in accounting and finance, my CPA and CFE designations. My hope is that other students are encouraged to pursue their higher educational goals as well, because Indian Country has a need for key financial positions. When I was treasurer for my Tribe it was difficult to fill financial positions with qualified Tribal members at the gaming operation and Tribal government offices. Those positions are available, and it will provide many pathways and opportunities.
I know having strong financial acumen gave me more opportunities outside of my tribe to grow professionally by learning best practices of other companies. My family, especially my mother and father, and community have supported me throughout my schooling and career, which inspires me to keep going. I am grateful for the knowledge and experience that I have obtained from my elders and will look for ways to give back and see the future generation succeed even more.
Republished courtesy of American Indian Graduate Center.