Money Smarts Training Presented to BIA Staff


Fraud occurs when someone unlawfully misrepresents information, facts or events for financial gain, and according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation, it’s a big problem in America. Each year eight in 10 Americans are solicited with a potentially fraudulent offer such as a phony charity fundraiser or bogus disaster-relief effort. About $50 billion is lost to fraud annually in this country and, sadly, elders are 34% more likely to be targets than middle-age individuals.

Native-led nonprofit First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation have teamed up to see that Native Americans don’t fall prey to scams by creating the Fighting Fraud 101 campaign. On February 4, 2015, Cherokee Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs employees had a chance to learn more about the exciting awareness campaign as part of an interactive financial skills workshop.


Cherokee Agency BIA staff at training were, L to R, Denny Rochester, Heather McNichols, Renee Bible, Tony Cabe, Lisa Parker, Kelcye Cook, Kim Chiltoskie, and Brooke Brown

Sarah Dewees is the Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs at First Nations and helped design a Fighting Fraud 101 toolkit to assist Native communities that could be especially susceptible to fraud. She warns that big payouts have focused a lot of attention toward Indian Country in recent years and that technology in the form of text messages, social media and email has made communities that were previously isolated and remote, like much of Indian Country, more accessible to fraudsters.

“There are definitely some at-risk Native communities right now,” Dewees said. “We’ve seen a number of highly publicized legal settlements resulting in payouts to Native people across the country. Not to mention ongoing per-capita and allotment income from sources such as gaming, leasing, and oil and gas revenues. Our goal is to work within Native communities to ensure that tribes and individuals are not targeted by fraudsters and scammers looking to exploit these windfalls.”

The three-hour workshop was offered in both morning and afternoon sessions and included detailed information on budgeting, financial recordkeeping, retirement planning and basic investing in addition to fraud awareness and prevention. Engaging learning activities were featured to reinforce key topics and concepts. One particularly interesting exercise tested recordkeeping and organizational habits by challenging participants to estimate how quickly and efficiently they could collect critical personal information and documents such as birth certificates, past years’ income tax returns, a current retirement account statement, and even the total amount they spent on holiday gifts last year.

“We’re thrilled our staff is able to receive this type of training onsite,” noted Agency Superintendent Darlene Whitetree and Deputy Superintendent Ruth McCoy. “Sound financial skills are crucial to the success of our employees both in the workplace and outside. Moreover, we encourage our staff to share this information with their families and others who might benefit from gaining a clearer understanding of finance.”

For more information on how you can join the Fighting Fraud 101 campaign or to request free fraud-fighting materials, contact First Nations Programs Consultant Shawn Spruce at or (505) 247-8861. You can dowload the Fighting Fraud 101 pamphlet at this link:

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Programs Consultant

FN+FIMO+FINRA+SEC+OST = Navajo Financial Ed

Attendees closely listen to workshop presenters and take many notes

To help tribal citizens of the Navajo Nation prepare for a potential financial windfall, the Federal Indian Minerals Office (FIMO) teamed up with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) to offer a series of financial education workshops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in December 2013. Staff from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) also assisted with the trainings.

Participants engage in an interactive activity during the training

The outreach event was held at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and consisted of two three-hour workshops designed to help people learn about managing their money, avoiding fraud, and investing. Interactive exercises, videos and presentations were used to provide information on financial topics.   FIMO was established in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Interior to provide services to individual Navajo mineral owner beneficiaries regarding their mineral interests and rights. To date the organization has approved 70 of 344 pending negotiated leases worth about $195 million to over 20,000 people.  There are also plans to auction off roughly 200 additional leases as a result of the current oil boom on the Navajo Nation.

Another activity helped drill home the information

The training began with a financial self-assessment and guided the participants through making goals, budgeting, tracking expenses and making a financial plan. The participants then learned about different types of fraud and effective means of combating fraud.   First Nations Financial Consultant Shawn Spruce coordinated the event in partnership with Charles Felker from the SEC, Susan Arthur from the FINRA Foundation, and Leona Begay from FIMO. The event was partially funded by grants from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.   The purpose of the event was to assist oil and gas lease beneficiaries with money management by promoting smart and informed decisions that will help with budgeting and protect beneficiaries from fraud. When asked about the training, many beneficiaries responded that the workshop was extremely valuable.

Visual aides were used during parts of the presentations

“It was really exciting to partner with staff from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Indian Minerals Office to provide this training,” Shawn said. “We look forward to providing many more, and having an even wider reach in the future enabling us to effectively build money management skills for this community.”

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy & Asset-Building Programs, and Rachel Vernon, First Nations Program Officer.

Native Youth Participate in InvestNative Online Financial Education Challenge

In December 2013, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations)  finished another round of its popular InvestNative Online Financial Education Challenge.  The online financial education curriculum, funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, provides concise, interactive and youth-focus financial literacy lessons.   The curriculum is aligned with the Jump$tart National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education and has been further adapted to meet the specific needs of Native youth in their communities.

Working in partnership with several high schools across the nation, First Nations recruited more than 70 students to participate in the online challenge in December.  This is the fourth time the online challenge has been offered, and to date over 418 students have participated and about half (204 students or 49%) have successfully completed all modules.

Guided by the principles of behavioral economics, First Nations provided an incentive for students participating in the challenge, and students who completed all eight lessons and passed a series of assessments (one for each module) with an average score of 80% or more were entered into a lottery to win a pair of the popular Beats brand headphones.  High schools that participated last year included Gallup Central High School and Thoreau High School in New Mexico, and Meskwaki High School in Iowa.  Beats headphones winners from Gallup Central High School (above) and Thoreau High School (below) are pictured here.  

An evaluation of the curriculum in 2013 revealed that 91% of all students who completed an evaluation agreed that the curriculum was relevant to their lives and 95% agreed that the information presented would assist them with their financial needs.  First Nations will continue to work with community partners in 2014 to make this curriculum available for high school students and youth groups.

To learn more about the curriculum, visit

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy & Asset-Building Programs

‘My Green’ Campaign Helps Native Youth Take Charge of Their Money

It’s called “Minor’s Trust,” “Big Money” or “18 Money,” and for a number of Native American youth, it represents a blessing and a curse.

A small number of tribes pay out dividends from tribal businesses, or per-capita payments, to their members. For tribal members who are age 17 or younger, these payments are usually held in a financial trust until the youth turns 18. At age 18 (although sometimes later) minors can apply for their minor’s trust payout and sometimes receive a very large payment. Thus, many young people are faced with the responsibility of managing their “Big Money” at a young age.   With funding from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, First Nations launched the My Green campaign in April 2013 to help Native youth learn to manage their money. The main feature of the campaign is the My Green website at It features four spokespeople – Native youth ages 17-23 – who present their stories about how they managed their Big Money. They share their lessons learned in a series of videos, and they serve as guides throughout the different components of the website. The site contains several money tools that Native youth can use to learn how to better manage their payments, including a Big Money simulation game that mirrors real-life spending decisions one must make.  The website also features an advice column that covers a number of financial topics that are especially pertinent to Native youth receiving minor’s trust payments.

First Nations created the campaign and website in response to the demand to provide financial education to the growing number of Native youth who are receiving a large lump sum of money as part of their minor’s trust payout.   Studies have shown that most Native American youth have very low rates of financial literacy, and are more likely to be “unbanked.” The national Financial Literacy of Native American Youth report (2007) showed that nearly 87% of Native American high school seniors in their study received a “failing” score in financial literacy. Similarly, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) found that 28.9% of American Indian and Alaska Natives are “underbanked,” and 15.6% are “unbanked.” With this low level of financial knowledge and high “unbanked” rate, Native youth who receive a large Minor’s Trust payment (sometimes amounting to $50,000 or more) are especially vulnerable to making poor financial decisions.

“Receiving a large minor’s trust payment when one turns 18 can be an exciting but also very stressful time for Native youth,” said Shawn Spruce, a program consultant for First Nations.  “We are confident that the My Green website will offer these kids a number of valuable tools to explore how to invest in their future.”

First Nations will continue to promote the website at several conferences over the summer and fall, including hosting a My Green booth at The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) conference Oct. 29 – Nov. 3, 2013. We first launched the campaign at the Native American Financial Officers Association conference in April in Nashville, followed by the Gathering of Nations PowWow in Albuquerque.

To learn more about the My Green campaign, visit the website at, “like” the campaign on Facebook at MyGreenFNDI, or follow the effort on Twitter @mygreenfndi.

Talented Native Students Make Art of Financial Literacy

Westlee Poor Bear begins drawing his piece “Bulls vs. Bears.”

In an effort to build Native youth financial literacy, First Nations worked with five art students at Miyamura High School in Gallup, New Mexico, to produce creative, camera-ready posters addressing various financial education topics.

Miyamura art teacher Tine Hayes, who worked with First Nations to facilitate the project funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, selected five especially gifted art students to participate. The students were commissioned for their artwork and received a payment upon the completion of their finished piece.

First Nations financial education consultant Shawn Spruce visited the high school in December 2012 to lead the art students in three three-hour sessions.  He introduced various financial concepts and asked them to begin drawing a unique piece that illustrated “Risk/Reward,” “Capital Appreciation,” “Diversification” or the “Circle of Life.”  One student, Westlee Poor Bear, was inspired to create a piece of art that captured both the up and down stock markets, titled “Bears vs. Bulls.” Another student, Kyle James, drew a piece titled “Invest in Yourself” that connected financial skills with his passion for wrestling by illustrating how both require dedicated practice and discipline.

Teacher Tine was very supportive of the kids receiving compensation for their work.  According to Tine, it gave the youth experience learning how to cater their artwork to the needs of a client, and it demonstrated how art can be pursued as a career.

“This project gives kids an opportunity to see the vocational aspects of art,” he noted.Miyamura High School art students with teacher Tine Hayes (back center).”

After the students took a couple of months to put finishing touches on their artwork, Shawn followed up to present them with their compensation and to offer a complimentary two-hour financial education class.  The session topics mostly focused on instructing students on how they could make responsible saving and spending decisions with the payment they were receiving for their artwork.

“One student intends to use his payment to purchase art supplies so he can produce more artwork to sell,” Shawn said. “Inspiring young people with forward thinking ideas like this is the whole goal.”

The posters were used as part of First Nations’ national “My Green” campaign (see separate story) that helps youth who are receiving large minor’s trust or per-capita payments (“Big Money”) make wise financial decisions.

By Benjamin Marks, First Nations Research & Program Officer

Risk and Reward
by Deon Tom

Bulls vs Bears

by Westlee Poor Bear

Invest in Yourself
by Kyle James

Top: Circle of Life by
Bryce Belinte

Circle of Life by Jayth Benally



Trainers Are Trained to ‘Build Native Communities’

In January 2013, First Nations concluded another successful Building Native Communities train-the-trainer event in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We were joined by many of our friends from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST), along with a high school financial-education teacher and representatives from tribal housing programs.  It’s all part of our mission to provide financial education to Native American people so they can be financially empowered and better control their financial destinies.

As part of our work funded by FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Nations provides Building Native Communities train-the-trainer events. First Nations often partners with the Office of the Special Trustee to conduct the train-the-trainer workshops.  The goal of these workshops is to provide training for OST Fiduciary Trust Officers and other employees, and high school teachers who teach financial education to predominantly Native American students.  First Nations is partnering with OST officers because they often provide financial education resources to their clients, many of whom are the recipients of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts or other tribal trust programs.  In an ongoing partnership with high school teachers in McKinley County, New Mexico, First Nations also reached out to teachers who have participated in other First Nations youth financial-education programs such as the Invest Native online challenge and the Crazy Cash City reality fair.

At the recent training, we had 10 OST officers from all across the country, a high school teacher from McKinley County, and five other tribal employees from the Pueblo of Laguna and Pueblo of Nambe.  The two-and-a-half day event took place at the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indian’s headquarters in Albuquerque.  It served as an introduction to the Building Native Communities suite of workbooks and training materials including Financial Skills for Families participant workbook, 4th edition, and the Investing for the Future workbook.  The train-the-trainer workshop also served as a forum for financial educators to share ideas, resources, and experiences.

On the final day of the training, participants took part in First Nations’ money reality fair, the “$pending Frenzy,” which is designed to address the needs of Native American youth who will be receiving a large tribal per-capita or minor’s trust payment.  The experiential learning model is designed to give kids a trial run at what it’s like to have a large sum of money and give them a chance to practice making smart spending decisions. The purpose of the simulation was to demonstrate to participants how to disseminate financial education topics in a fun and interactive way, and learn how the workshop could be offered to adult participants, as well.

Additionally, on the final day, the participants were required to practice-teach some of the lessons they learned over the past two days of training.  On participant evaluations, many stated that this task was especially helpful, including one person who claimed: “It was very helpful to have us teach a practice session. It brought up issues we might not have anticipated when teaching a course for the first time.”

Many of the participants are already making plans to use the skills and information they acquired at the training.  Some of these activities include facilitating a $pending Frenzy for high school students, making use of a presentation on managing expenses and modifying it for a youth financial fair presentation, and a housing entity employee creating informational materials for one-on-one counseling sessions.

“The training was packed with valuable information and it was a very engaging learning environment,” noted one participant on an evaluation form.

By Benjamin Marks, Research & Program Officer