By Rebecca Owl Morgan
Poverty has had a long term, consistent grip on Indian Country. Many factors contribute to this, such as living in isolated, rural regions where the economy is depressed and work is hard to find. But many Natives and their allies are working to change this story.
Asset building can provide a positive response to this social problem that has long plagued tribes and their citizens. It may seem that money and resources are all the same, but assets have important differences from income. Income refers to “…the flow of resources in a household “, while “assets are the stock of wealth in a household.” (1)
One describes the money you earn and use to buy groceries, pay rent, and other goods and services. The other can range from getting an education, having a savings account, a home or a business. For a family to move out of poverty they need both income and assets.
Asset building is a strategy that increases financial and tangible assets and focuses on long term development of individuals, families and communities. Asset building is a way for families to move up the economic ladder. Assets have been proven to provide a financial buffer to weather emergencies, promote success in work and inspire long term wellbeing of people and their families.
A pathway towards financial security begins with bringing in income, making sure to maximize every benefit and stabilize housing, transportation, and other essential goods and services. Next, families are connected to basic financial tools such as a bank account and savings. Once saving for emergencies has been addressed, then they can look towards long term assets such as an education, a home or business. Increasing knowledge and skills along the way enables success. Finally, protecting these assets helps ensure that they can be shared with their children. (2)
Native Asset Building Strategies
Below are two active examples of self-determination in building financial freedom for Natives by Natives:
Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition
Since 2007, the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, known as ONAC, has represented a consortium of Oklahoma tribes and partners interested in establishing asset-building initiatives and programs in Native communities. ONAC has been coordinated and led by Native asset building practitioners. The mission of our coalition is to build and support a network of Oklahoma Native people who are dedicated to increasing self-sufficiency and prosperity in their communities through the establishment of comprehensive financial education initiatives, Individual Development Accounts, and other asset-building strategies. While we believe that individual assets are important, we also are interested in simultaneously building family and community assets.
ONAC provides free training and technical assistance to tribes in Oklahoma that wish to design and implement various asset-building programs. Additionally, ONAC offers peer learning opportunities through conference calls, webinars, and convenings. As a Native asset building coalition, ONAC also provides constituents with asset building resources, models, and strategies; an annual conference; a forum to talk about any tribal, local, state, or federal asset building policies; and opportunities to connect to Native and non-Native asset building practitioners in Oklahoma and around the country. (3
Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)
The Native CDFI Network’s mission is to be a national voice and advocate that strengthens and promotes Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), creating access to capital and resources for Native peoples.
The Native CDFI Network was formed in 2009 to unify Native CDFIs serving Native trust land communities, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.
The Native CDFI Network seeks to create opportunities to share our stories, identify our collective priorities, and strengthen our industry. In addition, the Native CDFI Network works to ensure that Native peoples are represented in the national policy dialogue and innovative solutions created by CDFIs are spread throughout our Native communities.
As a strong national network, the Native CDFI Network empowers its members to engage our best ideas, connect to one another, and collectively advance policy priorities that foster systemic and sustainable Native community and economic development.
…assets matter economically, socially, and psychologically in ways that income alone does not. (4&5)
- Sherraden, M. W. (2015). Assets and the poor: A new American welfare policy. London: Routledge.
- Asset Building FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://prosperitynow.org/asset-building-faq
- Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition: Building self-sufficiency and prosperity (Guest Post: Christy Finsel). (2014, July 08). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://okpolicy.org/guest-post-christy-finsel/
- Our Mission. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from http://nativecdfi.net/about/mission/
- Why Assets Matter. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://prosperitynow.org/files/PDFs/financial_capability_planning_guide/WhyAssetsMatter_2013updates.pdf