Cedar Band Corporation Puts Profits to
Work for the Community
But new federal action threatens to gut band’s successful mortgage agency, eroding key funding source for programs that benefit youth, elders and others
In 2013, the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians decided to diversify its economic efforts by launching a mortgage agency. For the next three years, and without any outside investment, the Band built CBC Mortgage Agency (CBCMA) into a thriving company that provides down payment assistance to creditworthy homebuyers.
CBCMA is a federally chartered government entity, and the agency has helped thousands of borrowers achieve the dream of homeownership through its Chenoa Fund. More than half of CBCMA’s borrowers are African American, Latino, or other minorities who lack the funds necessary to meet the down payment threshold to obtain an FHA-insured loan.
Last month, however, this story of success and self-determination took a dark turn. In a dramatic move that was taken without consultation with the Cedar Band and should put everyone in Indian Country on edge, the federal government made a rule change that threatens to blast a fatal hole in the Chenoa Fund.
On April 18, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a Mortgagee Letter that effectively outlaws CBCMA’s business and creates chaos for hundreds of borrowers suddenly threatened with the loss of the down payment help they need to close on their home purchase.
The Chenoa Fund immediately filed a legal challenge in federal court, and HUD agreed to stay the action temporarily. But the fact remains that the government took a disturbing action that encroaches on tribal sovereignty and contradicts established federal policy of promoting the economic development of American Indian tribes and bands.
“HUD’s appalling new rule deals a significant blow to Native Americans’ efforts to establish businesses that provide jobs and revenue for our people,” said Bobby Rowser, a member of the Cedar Band of Paiutes and Board member of the Cedar Band Corporation. “We hope they will reconsider, but either way, this action is a painful reminder of the past – one that should put all tribes and bands on alert.”
Headquartered in Cedar City, Utah, CBCMA and a collection of other businesses owned by the Band now employ scores of people scattered across 14 states. In addition, CBCMA directly benefits the tribal entity that founded and governs it by serving as a significant and reliable revenue generator.
The Cedar Band is one of five constituent bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, people whose roots in Southwestern Utah stretch back thousands of years. Formal recognition of the Cedar Band and Cedar (Suh’dutsing) People, came on April 3, 1980, with congressional passage of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act.
Today the band occupies a 2,200-acre reservation that stretches from the middle of Cedar City southward along the Interstate 15 corridor. Its people’s name, Suh’dutsing, which means cedar, derives from the cedar tree commonly found on the lands long populated by the band.
Through the years, the band’s leaders have used distributions from CBCMA and other band enterprises to sustain essential government functions, preserve and promote band culture, and create and expand a wide variety of programs that benefit members.
Revenues support medical and dental care benefits; anti-drug, tobacco, and alcohol education; after-school tutoring; elder care programs; scholarships to help with college tuition; grants that enable tribal members to purchase off-reservation homes; and many other projects.
CBCMA is owned by the Cedar Band Corporation, which was founded by the band in 2002. From its humble beginnings, the Cedar Band Corporation has blossomed to include a diverse array of companies, from premier defense and government contracting firms to a successful convenience store, award-winning wine distributor, and soon-to-open full-service travel plaza.
A summary of some initiatives funded by CBCMA and its sister companies follows:
§ Youth Programs: Seeking to enhance youth development, the Band provides a range of after-school programs, assisting students through tutoring and the opportunity to complete homework in a structured and supportive environment. Students who are struggling to maintain their grades receive special assistance, and all youth have access to computers and multi-media resources. In addition, students also are provided special lectures aimed at preventing drug and alcohol use.
§ Scholarship Program: The Cedar Band of Paiutes Scholarship is available to enrolled Band members who are pursuing a higher education. To qualify, recipients must be enrolled full- or part-time in a university, college, junior college, or technical/trade school and have a cumulative GPA of 2.25. Scholarships are granted on the basis of academic achievement and/or financial need.
§ Elder Assistance Programs: The Cedar Band cherishes its elder members and considers them a living thread to its past. To help maintain and preserve cultural values and traditions, the Band puts a focus on elders and supports them through special activities. Targeted efforts also are made to improve the quality of life for Band elders and foster their independence. Specifically, revenues fund supportive services, such as transportation, as well as a small monthly stipend to each band member over the age of 62.
§ Southern Paiute Language Study and Research: As part of its cultural preservation efforts, the Band offers members the opportunity to learn the Paiute language in classes provided twice each week. In addition to learning to speak Paiute, students can further their skills and knowledge of Paiute history and traditions by engaging in guided research and writing projects.
§ Cultural Opportunities: The Band’s leaders are dedicated to sustaining and expanding awareness of important historical and cultural customs. Toward that goal, the Band periodically funds culturally significant opportunities, such as Spirit runs and hunting camps where youth can learn to hunt and field dress.
§ Cedar Band Building Renovation and Maintenance: One of the most significant improvement projects undertaken by the Band has been the recent (and ongoing) renovation of the headquarters building in Cedar City. Work completed in 2018 included upgrades to the kitchen, bathrooms, classrooms, CBC’s headquarters. and landscaping. Remodeling will continue in 2019, when CBC will re-roof the Cedar Band of Paiutes building. Revenues also finance ongoing building maintenance.
§ Work Training: A key element of the Band’s ongoing economic development efforts is providing work opportunities and training to its members, particularly youth. The Work Training Program is designed to offer hands-on job opportunities, as well as education. Participants in the Work Training Program provided substantial assistance in the recent renovation of the Band’s headquarters. They also perform building maintenance and landscaping.
§ New Travel Plaza: Thanks to ongoing revenues, the Band has been able to move ahead with plans to break ground on a new enterprise that combines a gas station, travel plaza, and convenience store. The complex, scheduled for completion in January 2020, will provide additional jobs and income opportunities for members of the Band. Profits from CBC’s companies allowed the Band to build this travel plaza without taking on long-term debt.
Show support for a withdrawal of the Mortgagee Letter today by visiting www.chenoafund.org.