By Mary Belle Zook, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
The First Peoples Fund recently extended its partnership with the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation until June 2021. Between 2016 and 2020, the two organizations have assisted more than 90 Native American artists with business development training, credit counseling and asset building.
First Peoples Fund “strives to provide support and voice to creative Indigenous artists who share their inspiration, wisdom, knowledge and gifts with their communities.”
“The partnership has allowed me to build additional resources and relationships for, and with, our Native community. It fills me up when I see participants develop assets, grow their credit scores and their businesses,” said Felecia Freeman, CPCDC commercial loan officer and First Peoples Fund liaison.
Established as a nonprofit in 2003, the CPCDC provides microloans, business loans, short-term consumer loans, financial education, one-on-one customized business consultations and more. Now, the organization continues to build upon some of the programs established with the First Peoples Fund to provide credit counseling and technical assistance to Native artisans in particular.
CPCDC programs are available to Native Americans across Oklahoma and any CPN tribal member within the United States and its territories.
The Hownikan spoke to two Native American artisans assisted by the First Peoples Fund and CPCDC, MaryBeth Timothy and Leslie Deer. Timothy — Cherokee Nation citizen — and her husband own MoonHawk Art, LLC based in northeastern Oklahoma. Deer — citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation — operates L A Deer Apparel. Both Timothy and Deer found the educational opportunities and assistance invaluable to their businesses’ success.
“I have participated in a lot of events that the CPCDC has offered over the years,” Deer said. “I think it’s fabulous that they offered all of that training for free, and it was there for anyone to participate.”
She completed her second bachelor’s in 2016, receiving a degree in apparel design from Oklahoma State University, and she wanted to establish her own small enterprise.
The First Peoples Fund “came to be here at the Potawatomi Nation … at the perfect time for me to go and attend that training and learn about the different levels of entrepreneurship,” she said.
Deer became knowledgeable in record keeping and establishing business accounts, and eventually earned a certification as a First Peoples Fund trainer. She assists the two organizations by leading classes and tutorials to support fellow Native American artists in the region.
“For me to be able to share the knowledge that I have learned and share my experiences with other emerging artists in our community, that is really something that makes you feel good — that makes you feel like you’ve made a difference. You’re helping bring someone else along behind you, reaching back and pulling them up with you,” Deer said.
In addition to classes, the CPCDC and First Peoples Fund established The Artist Individual Development Accounts that provide a $500 matching savings account participants use to further advance their businesses. Deer’s funds helped her purchase a new industrial cutting table that makes creating patterns and preparing fabric easier.
“It’s a luxury to have something like that at my stage in the game,” she said.
Through the IDA, Timothy began the process of moving her and her husband’s art business out of a bedroom in their home to a building on their property.
“One of the major things that needed to be done before we could do anything out there was to get a new roof on it,” Timothy explained. Through the matching funds, “we were able to get a metal roof put on last year, so that was amazing and a huge, huge step. It just seems like baby steps when you’re going through it, but when you look back, it’s like, ‘Man, these are big things that we’re doing.’”
The CPCDC also assisted Timothy with building her credit and becoming more a more financially-stable business owner.
“Felecia helped me sort through and figure out how to clean it up, and I owe her a lot for that part. She’s been such a great help,” she said.
The CPCDC differs from regular financial institutions with a variety of resources and trained staff to help Native Americans thrive as business owners.
“We rely less on credit score and more on creating an opportunity for the Native entrepreneur. The technical assistance, such as business planning, financial projections and market analysis, help our Native borrowers grow their business idea into existence. Our partners are key in providing this needed assistance. Our loan products, credit counseling and credit building tools help us develop a long-term relationship with our unbanked or underbanked Native entrepreneurs,” Freeman said.
For those who may have hesitations regarding speaking to a bank about their business or business plans, she said the CPCDC provides non-judgmental assistance.
“Life happens. None of us plan to get divorced, become sick or lose our jobs; however, all of these life events can negatively affect our credit score, financial wellness and future outlook. We are here to help our Native community build, rebuild and/or expand their financial future,” Freeman said.
On top of helping build business capacity, the CPCDC stays up-to-date on a variety of programs and education opportunities for its clients.
“I use the (CPCDC) as a resource to help me find the things that I need, or if I am applying for a grant or something, they are so helpful in so many ways. Felecia is always right there to help,” Deer said.
After the First Peoples Fund partnership ends June 2021, the CPCDC will continue its efforts to uplift and empower Native artists and business owners. The organization has numerous online and virtual learning opportunities scheduled for 2021, and it welcomes all interested Native American and CPN entrepreneurs to reach out. Check out the the CPCDC’s event calendar at cpcdc.org and follow on Facebook @cpncdfi.