An inherent sense of community. A legacy of advocacy. A heritage grounded in education. They are signatures of First Nations Development Institute Board Member Chandra Hampson, and the driving force behind her schooling, career and ongoing outreach. From her childhood on the Winnebago and Umatilla reservations and in adjacent small towns, to her years as a banking executive, Chandra has built on this foundation, staying connected to her native heritage and always pursuing ways to make it stronger.
A Calling in Her Blood
Chandra’s tribal affiliation is Ho-Chunk from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and Ojibwe from the White Earth Nation. She is also the great granddaughter of Elizabeth Bender and of Henry Roe Cloud, a renowned educator and key player in the development of federal Indian policy in the early 20th century. The first Native American to graduate from Yale University, Cloud had a distinguished career in Native advocacy, first helping to institute modern schools for Native American youth and then being instrumental in the writing and implementation of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Cloud’s legacy transcended generations, instilling in his descendants the importance of education and each person’s obligation to help their community.
Chandra has taken this heritage to heart, recognizing that wherever her life has taken her – from the reservations, to her studies in Italy, to business school at the University of Washington – she has felt a deep connection to her Native roots and an ongoing desire to give back.
The Need for Community
Chandra spent the bulk of her childhood in rural areas adjacent to and on the Umatilla Reservation. Here she maintained close contact not only with the Umatilla Tribe, but also with her own Winnebago Tribe from her roots in Nebraska. From here, she headed to Stanford University – a tradition in education for many of her family members. In fact, she said, her parents met at Stanford after both being assigned to the first co-ed dorm in the country.
While being raised in a rural area had given Chandra exposure to class racial divides, Stanford was her first introduction to a more expansive world of privilege. “My Native family who’d attended always spoke positively about Stanford,” she said. “But they were resilient in ways I can only imagine. For me it was challenging to find people I could identify with.”
Fortunately, an uncle who had been at Stanford in the 1970s connected Chandra with the Stanford Native Community Center that proved to be fundamental to her success. During her time at Stanford, she stayed involved with the group, which has since grown to become one of the best Native student programs nationwide. “My uncle was involved in forming this group, and the legacy has been amazing,” she said. “It’s something that Native people need, to avoid feeling isolated.”
Choosing to Help
Chandra graduated from Stanford into a national recession with a degree in art and photography. She found herself at a crossroads. She decided she would give herself six months to pursue a career in graphics and animation, or she would honor the calling instilled in her from her beginnings – helping others. In what ultimately would be a loss for the art world but a win for the Indian community, after six months she began working with a community partnership in Santa Clara County, focusing on Urban Indian community development with local Indian health and education organizations.
A move to San Diego next led Chandra to a management position with a family foundation, where she was introduced to a variety of trusts, grassroots organizations and other foundations. From this experience, a new career pathway began to reveal itself. “I found the nonprofit sector didn’t have a sense of business, and the business community didn’t have much heart,” she said. “I was looking for a space between.”
Her exploration led her to pursue an MBA at the University of Washington, where she focused on the intersection of community development and private-sector finance.
The Power of Banking
While “responsible business” and “corporate responsibility” were new concepts at the time she started business school, Chandra already had her focus on getting back to Indian Country. “In everything I did, I was always looking for the Native component,” she said. “I kept refusing to leave our First People out of the conversation.”
She developed skills in marketing and finance and upon graduation sought a career in the industry that could make a real difference for Native communities: banking. For her, it was about capital and asset-building.
“I wanted to find ways to control the flow of capital and the extent to which it was available in Indian Country,” she said.
Through traditional banking, Chandra said she could work to get tribes more access to capital, which they historically hadn’t had due to racist beliefs and policies. She strived to get tribes treated as viable public finance customers. Drawing on her knowledge of other approaches to channeling capital to unserved communities, she worked to disrupt the way financial systems operated in order to get capital back to Indian Country.
“Through banking, I could help tribes and tribal members leverage what they have – social enterprises, government enterprises, entrepreneurialism. That’s social capital, which is as valuable, if not more so, as monetary capital.”
Chandra sought out banks that were doing good works via their Community Reinvestment Act requirements, and ultimately dove into a career with Wells Fargo for the next seven years. She transitioned from positions of bank examiner, to private banker, to commercial gaming lender, to relationship manager for the Pacific Northwest Region of Native American Banking Services Division. Through the last role, she finally had an opportunity to have a direct impact on Native communities and their access to funding to build their economies.
She continued with Wells Fargo until corporate policies and internal competition began to dictate what she was able to do for tribes.
“There was controversy surrounding gaming tribes, which the bank regarded as gaming enterprises instead of communities,” she said. “There were issues of land status and trust. Our team wanted to service these tribes as government agencies, which limited the bank’s returns. Meanwhile the bank considered them to be high-risk gaming organizations.”
It was a policy she could not condone.
Still focused on wanting to serve Indian Country, Chandra decided to pursue opportunities with Craft3 – a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution lender formed to strengthen economic, ecological and family resilience in Pacific Northwest communities. She accepted a position as Senior Vice President and was brought on to create the Indian Country Initiative.
Chandra left the world of banking in 2012 to focus on her two small children, but has stayed true to her calling to her community.
She continues serving on several boards of Native organizations and has pursued contract opportunities that empower her to directly help tribes. Among them: writing economic development plans and reviewing business acquisition opportunities for tribes, writing business plans for Native nonprofit organizations, including “Feeding Seven Generations,” and teaching financing and accounting to Native people working in tribal gaming organizations through a UW American Indian Studies program.
The teaching engagements, she said, have allowed her to address the need for financial literacy in Indian Country. “I appreciate having the opportunity to show how accounting, for example, is just the language of business – how American capitalism communicates,” she said. “I let students know that their own concepts and traditional knowledge can be maintained. They’re just using the language of business to translate, so they can better advocate for themselves.”
Chandra said she also continues to focus on efforts that highlight the value of social versus monetary capital, stressing how Indigenous notions of economics are needed in our Native communities. “This is a beacon for how to right the way American capitalism has gone so far south. It’s been a long transition between bringing capital and the ‘ism’ that is tied to it to Indian Country and recognizing that we need to reinvest in ourselves,” she said.
Through it all, Chandra has continued her role on the board of First Nations, an organization that she said she’s honored to be a part of.
“I really respect coming on to a board where members have served for 30 years. It’s amazing to have people who have never lost sight.”
Moreover, she said she appreciates the alignment of First Nations with her personal mission to increase the flow of capital into Indian Country. “From reclaiming systems, to economic growth, to influencing the philanthropic community, First Nations is improving the overall asset base in a very thoughtful and strategic way,” she said. “They’re a first-class nonprofit.”
Going forward, Chandra said she is committed to the legacy established so many years ago by her great grandfather: Community, advocacy, education. They are attributes she said that will always be needed to help tribes rebuild what is historically theirs.
“It’s been a long evolution of finding how to best help communities coming out of economic distress. We still have a long way to go to support healthy land, healthy people and sustainability,” she says. “But we’ll get there.”
With groundwork established by advocates like Henry Roe Cloud, and the ongoing work of leaders like Chandra, we will.
By Amy Jakober