Dr. Per Cap: Seven Years Strong & Counting

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Pithy, poignant and … practical. That was the goal when First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) dreamed up the idea of Ask Dr. Per Cap. We wanted to start a financial advice column geared specifically to Native American readers. There were already countless online articles and blogs about generic personal finance topics like reading credit reports, creating budgets, and saving for retirement, but we wanted something more for Indian Country – articles to address financial issues unique to Native communities. That includes stuff like managing minor’s trust payments, paying the Kiddie Tax on gaming profits held in trust for minors, managing federal land-acquisition proceeds, and how collection practices relate to sovereign immunity. Boring you say? Not with Dr. Per Cap clacking the keyboard. It’s amazing how a good dose of Indian humor can turn a dull conversation into a party!

1moneySince 2011, I’ve written enough Ask Dr. Per Cap columns to give Dear Abby a run for her eternally-syndicated money. Partly autobiographical and partly based on lessons learned from over 10 years working as a financial education consultant in Indian Country, the columns always have a no-nonsense yet lighthearted approach. But the prescription for money woes is always the same: tough love tempered with common sense, designed to combat everyday money challenges facing folks on the rez. A column titled Gold Diggers on the Prowl is a cautionary tale of community outsiders who set their romantic sights on people with per capita cash. Shady Dealings addresses fraud and scams targeted to Native consumers – we highlight tricks we have seen, like the promise of large treasury grants, but there’s a catch! They require large upfront fees paid with iTunes cards … hmmm, sounds fishy.

1BudgetThe articles are available for free to tribal newspapers, websites and community newsletters, which can publish them in weekly or monthly installments. Jonelle Yearout of Nimiipuu Community Development Fund, a CDFI serving the Nez Perce Tribe, runs Ask Dr. Per Cap on her organization’s website and in the tribal paper, Ta’c Tito’oqan. “Our community members really enjoy reading Dr. Per Cap,” explained the Lapwai, Idaho-based executive director. “The content is relatable to Indian Country and up to date. A piece on land buy back preparedness resonated especially well when individuals and families were gearing up for land sales. Other articles stress the link between money and math, avoiding payday loans, and the business of marriage – all from a cultural context.”

1handsPinnacle Bank is one of a handful of tribally-owned banks in the country. With two locations in central Iowa, the Meskwaki Nation enterprise offers financial education for tribal members as a service. “We publish Dr. Per Cap articles in the tribal paper,” explained Jody Fank, Pinnacle’s vice president of business development. “Topics are timely and readers appreciate how they are geared to Native people and finance. They are also really fun to read.” Other communities such as Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have used the free advice column in their local newspapers.

In addition to ongoing financial advice, each April during Financial Literacy Month Dr. Per Cap recognizes a team of Financial Literacy All Stars – outstanding individuals who are working hard to expand financial education efforts throughout Indian Country. Moreover, Dr. Per Cap is lending insight to an upcoming rewrite of First Nations’ Building Native Communities: Investing for the Future workbook. It contains more fun strategies to complement our ever-expanding stock of financial education resources and tools!

Interested in bringing Dr. Per Cap to your community? Contact Sarah Dewees at sdewees@firstnations.org to get copies of the free newspaper columns.

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. Creative inspiration is led by Shawn Spruce Consulting. For more information, see this link.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant