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News Release

Opportunity Finance Network

Last night, the Native CDFI Awards honored two Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) — Cook Inlet Lending Center in Alaska and Black Hills Community Loan Fund in South Dakota — for their unique approaches to helping Native-owned small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Native communities have suffered a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 illness, with cases among American Indian and Alaska Natives 3.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites in 23 states. Native community development financial institutions have been critical resources for these communities during the health and economic crisis.

Rooted in Native culture and history, Native community development financial institutions provide access to capital for locally-owned businesses, spark growth in communities underserved by mainstream finance, and offer economic relief during disaster.

Launched in 2019, the Native community development financial institutions Awards are a joint initiative of Wells Fargo, Oweesta Corporation, the oldest Native community development financial institutions intermediary, and Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), a national network of community development financial institutions, to honor and support Native community development financial institutions that are creating opportunity and promoting self-sovereignty in Indian Country nationwide.

"Far too many Native communities face barriers to accessing capital in the U.S.. We recognize that this has been even more challenging over the past nine months as the pandemic and economic downturn have hit these important communities especially hard," said Nate Hurst, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation. "This year's awardees exemplify the ingenuity, creativity, and knowledge of Native-led community development financial institutions, filling capital gaps and uplifting tribal communities, one investment at a time."

2020 Native CDFI Awardees:

  • Native CDFI Catalyst Award. Cook Inlet Lending Center (CILC) serves low- to moderate-income households that lack access to affordable financial products and services in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska. For Anchorage small businesses impacted by COVID-19, CILC has developed a business stabilization strategy — Survive-Adapt-Thrive — to help the businesses ride out the current recession.
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An innovative combination of flexible financial products and supportive services, Survive-Adapt-Thrive responds to the moment by providing access to affordable capital that small businesses need immediately and long term. The approach is designed for struggling small businesses that have the potential to recover and flourish and are owned by people of color, women, and Alaska Natives.

CILC will use its $100,000 Native Catalyst Award grant to build the staff capacity required to successfully implement its strategy.

  • Native CDFI Seed Capital Award — Black Hills Community Loan Fund (BHCLF) creates financial opportunities for economically disadvantaged families who aim to strengthen their financial future in the Black Hills Region. BHCLF will use its $25,000 Native CDFI Seed Capital Award to support Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota artists during this unprecedented time.

Due to the pandemic, tribal artists are unable to sell their products through the usual venues like art festivals, pow-wows, and museums. BHCLF is collaborating with Native Pop, a local nonprofit Native arts market and cultural celebration, to help Black Hills artists modify their business plans to meet today's needs for social distance. With its grant, BHCLF will purchase equipment and consulting services to assist artists in redeveloping their marketing plans and building new websites.

CILC and BHCLF received the Awards last night at Opportunity Finance Network's Annual Conference.

"Native community development financial institutions are pivotal in creating platforms of opportunity with their financing efforts," said Chrystel Cornelius, president & CEO, Oweesta Corporation. "We are honored to celebrate Black Hills Community Loan Fund and Cook Inlet Lending Center with these much deserved awards."

This year's Awardees are two of more than 70 Native community development financial institutions nationwide providing a broad range of financial services and products that build individual assets and community wealth in Indian Country.

"My deepest congratulations and gratitude to Cook Inlet Lending Center and Black Hills Community Loan Fund for their lending skills and ability to uplift resilient and innovative Native communities," said Lisa Mensah, president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network.

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