Receiving a boost

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Bolstering reservation community assets

LONGMONT, Colo. - As much of the country faces a struggling economy, Native communities will receive a boost from private and corporate funders in an effort to bolster the educational, homeownership and financial assets of American Indian families and individuals.

First Nations Development Institute, a national nonprofit Native organization, has gathered a consortium of funders for its Little Eagle Staff Fund.

With $435,000 in funding from Bank of America, Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Washington Mutual Foundation and a fourth partner, the fund will provide grants and technical assistance to ultimately make the residents of reservation communities better-educated consumers of financial products and services.

A call for letters of inquiry for grants from the Little Eagle Staff Fund was formally announced at a dinner March 18 at First Nations; national Oweesta/LEAD Conference at the Red Lion Hotel in Denver. A featured speaker at the conference and stalwart ally of First Nations' financial education efforts targeting American Indians will be Dan Iannicola, deputy assistant secretary for the Department of the Treasury's Office of Financial Education.

The conference attracted more than 100 tribal leaders to focus on economic development, organization development and financial literacy issues.

''First Nations and our funding partners celebrate through the Little Eagle Staff Fund the opportunity to create a nurturing and enabling environment for the growth of institutions that support small- and medium-sized enterprises on American Indian reservations,'' said Michael E. Roberts, president of First Nations. ''By providing grants and other assistance, the Little Eagle Staff Fund will ultimately create new wealth opportunities for and increase the assets of reservation community members.''

Little Eagle Staff Fund letters of inquiry will be due to First Nations Development Institute June 2. Eligible applicants will be tribal programs and Native nonprofit organizations that focus on asset and wealth creation programs in Native communities. Grants will strengthen program administration, management and implementation. More information about the LESF program and the application process are available on the First Nations Web site.

The announcement of the Little Eagle Staff Fund and its focus on financial literacy is particularly timely, coming on the heels of First Nations' newly issued report, ''Borrowing Trouble: Predatory Lending in Native American Communities.'' The report details the predatory practices of lenders that target Native communities with loan products that are often designed to exploit vulnerable borrowers who generally cannot afford to repay the loans.

First Nations Development Institute is a national, American Indian-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was founded in 1980. Through a three-pronged strategy of educating grass-roots practitioners, advocating systemic change and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations is working to restore Native control and culturally compatible stewardship of the assets they own - be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources - and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native communities. First Nations was founded with the belief that ''when armed with appropriate resources, Native peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of

their communities.''

For more information, contact Sarah EchoHawk Vermillion, vice president of development and communications, at (303) 774-7836 or svermillion@firstnations.org, or visit www.firstnations.org.