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The Best Kind of Insurance: How AMERIND Risk Promotes Higher Education

"Our higher mission is the economic sustainability of Indian country," says Nancy Harjo Serna (Muscogee Creek), Director of Marketing at AMERIND Risk. "Education is a major factor in being able to attain that economic sustainability."

Created by more than 400 tribes as a risk-pool entity, AMERIND Risk specializes in providing property, liability and workers' compensation insurance for tribes, tribal governments, businesses and individuals. Tribally-owned, and based on the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico, AMERIND prides itself on catering to Indian country unlike commercial insurance companies. Its mission statement is: "Tribes Protecting Tribes."

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AMERIND Risk distributes $45,000 annually amongst nine regional housing authorities, which set their own scholarship application criteria and select scholarship awardees. Interested applicants can contact Serna at AMERIND Risk. "These students are the future leaders of our communities," she says.

One event that draws huge community support from New Mexico residents and Pueblo leaders is AMERIND's annual golf fundraiser. This April, 120 participants played in the 2015 Protecting Tribal Families Golf Fundraiser at the Twin Warriors Golf Club in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico. AMERIND Risk shared half of the proceeds of $13,400, with the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) to support its scholarship fund.

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AMERIND’s portion of the proceeds went toward its Family Emergency Fund that assists uninsured Native families who have experienced hardships due to unforeseen disasters or loss to their home.

While the AMERIND Risk Family Emergency Fund provides much-needed relief to devastated families, the company's generosity also lends the opportunity to educate members of Indian country on the importance of securing insurance. "We feel very passionate about getting the word out to them [about the need to get insured], so that if Mother Nature wreaks havoc or catastrophic things happen, we can pay their claims and get them back in their home," Serna says.

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Another outreach effort is the annual AMERIND All-West Native American Basketball Classic tournament, co-hosted each April with the United Native American Housing Association and the Great Plains Tribes near Denver, Colorado. This year, AMERIND’s support helped to provide six $4,000 college scholarships to Native American youth. In March, volunteers and participants celebrated the tournament's 30th anniversary.

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One way the tournament inspires Natives is through field trips to nearby colleges. "Youth learn the basics of applying for college and what to expect when they move away from home to college," says Jason Adams, UNAHA Chairman and Executive Director of the Salish & Kootenai Housing Authority.

The basketball classic has a tradition of renowned guest speakers. "We always have guest speakers who are really relatable to the kids, successful minorities such as Muhammad Ali, U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, many Miss Indian USA winners, and various NBA and NFL stars—both current and past," says tournament manager David Heisterkamp, who has volunteered at the basketball event for 21 years.

Teaching Safety and Respect

Considering 72 percent of the more than $385 million in claims paid by AMERIND since 1986 has been fire-related, AMERIND takes fire safety and prevention very seriously. It has hosted an annual fire safety poster contest for youth for the last 22 years. Recently, the focus has expanded to include campaigns against texting and driving. AMERIND awards three poster contest winners $1,000 each.

Kenneth Ruthardt, AMERIND Risk safety representative, will lead a seminar on fire safety at AMERIND Risk's 2015 Institute to be held October 6-8, at the Isleta Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Grease fires are a deadly issue. He says, "If you pour water on a grease fire, it explodes up the wall and across the ceiling. It turns into a fireball instantaneously.”

Ruthardt will also announce AMERIND’s recently launched initiative to reduce arson. "We created an arson award program that pays up to $10,000 in the event of an arrest and indictment of the suspect.” Tips can be made anonymously.

Derek Valdo, AMERIND Risk CEO, holds a fire extinguisher to promote fire safety.

Circulating Money in Indian Country

AMERIND also gives money to Native American -controlled organizations that can improve tribal lives. It sets aside nearly half a million dollars for the National Congress of American Indians, the Native American Finance Officers Association, the Native American Human Resources Association, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Native American Rights Fund, and many more Native nonprofits.

"We give back to Native associations that help Indian country. We’re more than just an insurance company,” says Derek Valdo (Acoma Pueblo), AMERIND CEO.

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