New Web Resource for Native Financial Educators


In April, First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation announced the launch of a new financial education web portal at It serves as a resource center for Native financial education practitioners and educators.

The site contains our suite of financial education curricula, downloadable instructor guides, trainer tools, research and publications, and additional materials. The website also contains links to the My Green campaign, the website, and videos and materials that can assist financial educators.

All resources will be in a centralized location and will address topics such as Minor’s Trust Accounts (training resources, research, etc.), an online curriculum about investing for Native youth, and supplemental training resources. These efforts were funded by the Rose Foundation and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

“My Green” Campaign Releases Music Video

First Nations Development Institute’s “My Green” campaign, a social marketing campaign focused on financial empowerment for Native American youth, has just released a new music video that addresses “18 Money,” which is the age at which some Native teens receive a significant financial distribution while they often lack the skills to effectively deal with the windfall.

Theodore “Theo” Brown, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, wrote and recorded a song titled “Turned 18” about the challenges and pitfalls of receiving a minor’s trust payment. Working alongside the Ho-Chunk Players, a Native youth theater troupe directed by Sherman Funmaker, Theo and the group produced a music video to illustrate a day in the life of a Ho-Chunk youth who “turned 18.” The video was shot over several days this past summer in Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, and is available on YouTube at

Ho-Chunk Players on location in Baraboo, Wis. Left to right are Sherman Funmaker, Sylvia Bisonette, Dean Funmaker, Mariah Funmaker and Diana Concha.

It can be 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. Payments for tribal members who are age 17 or younger are usually held in a financial trust until the youth turns 18. At age 18 (although sometimes later) youth receive a substantial payment and are faced with the responsibility of managing their “Big Money.”

With funding from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, First Nations launched the “My Green” campaign to help Native youth learn to manage their “18 Money.” This includes raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities provided by the minor’s trust payment. The campaign features a website at that provides a platform for four spokespeople – Native youth ages 17-23 – to present their stories about how they managed their money. They share their lessons learned in several videos, and serve as guides throughout the different components of the website.

Student Artist Puts Soul & Soles Into “My Green” Campaign

Erin Bulow (Zuni Pueblo) proudly displays his custom painted "My Green" contest shoes

First Nations Development Institute’s “My Green” campaign helps Native youth learn how to take charge of their money – and begin to walk the path to financial wellness. As part of this financial education campaign, First Nations sponsored a contest in early 2013 where the grand prize was a pair of shoes that made that journey a little easier.

“You see so many contests these days with prizes like electronic gadgets and gift cards,” commented Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ senior director of research, policy & asset-building programs.  “That stuff can be great, but we wanted something more original that could tie directly into My Green’s message of financial empowerment.”

Sarah and her team didn’t have to look very far.  Last year First Nations worked closely with young artists on a “My Green” financial education poster project at Miyamura High School in Gallup, New Mexico.  One student had an interesting hobby that got them thinking.  Erin Bulow, 17, hand paints colorful designs on tennis shoes. It turns out that custom-painted shoes are “all the rage” these days. In fact, there’s even a national shoe-painting contest for high school art students that is sponsored by Vans, a popular tennis shoe company. The Vans “Custom Culture” program is a national shoe-customization contest where schools from all over the U.S. compete for a chance to win money for their art programs, and usually has about 2,000 schools participating.  Miyamura High School entered this year, and so did the Early College Academy at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon (NAYA Early College Academy is another school with whom First Nations partners to provide financial education programming).

First Nations hired Erin, who is originally from Zuni Pueblo, to design a one-of-a-kind pair of “My Green” shoes to serve as a prize for the contest.  Erin comes from a family of distinguished artists – his grandfather was Duane Dishta, a well-known kachina carver and silversmith, and his mother is an accomplished painter and potter.  In addition to shoe painting, the high school senior carves fetishes, makes pottery, silversmiths, and enjoys photography and writing short stories.  To date he has created more than 20 pairs of custom-painted tennis shoes that he sells along with other artwork through his website,

“I’ve been into art my whole life, but I really started getting serious when I was about 13,” Erin explained. “It’s my passion to create, but it’s also my business.  I’d like to eventually own a gallery and become a full-scale dealer and trader.”

Erin’s ambition fits well with the “My Green” message of financial empowerment.  He also draws upon profound life experiences to produce art with a positive message.  When he was a child, his family home was lost in an accidental fire.  “I learned a lot when that happened,” he observed.  “I learned how important it is to be self-reliant and have money set aside.  I’ve had to grow up fast, but that’s a good thing.  I think some of these values come out in my art and I’m proud to share them with other young people who appreciate my work.”

It’s been said that the secret to a fulfilling life and rewarding career is doing what you love.  Erin Bulow has figured this lesson out a lot sooner than most. Our lucky contest winner got to think about taking a walk in his shoes – in more ways than one.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

First Nations Keynotes at Seminole Conference

The Native Learning Center affiliated with the Seminole Tribe of Florida invited First Nations Development Institute to present at its Fifth Annual Summer Conference – Strengthening Tribal Communities Into the Future – in Hollywood, Florida, on June 5, 2013.

First Nations Senior Program Officer Montoya Whiteman (Cheyenne-Arapaho) spoke during a general session to approximately 150 conference attendees. She discussed First Nations’ history and purpose, the organization’s current My Green financial education campaign, and the Building Native Communities Financial Series, specifically A Journey to Financial Empowerment.

Montoya Whiteman

Montoya noted that the opportunity to share First Nation’s work in this type of environment reinforces the importance of collaboration, and provides insight into demonstrated strategies, tools and research activities.  “It also highlights the valuable resources that are free to Native communities and the public, and which are available through our First Nations website,” she added.

To learn more about research models and publications, visit and click on the “Knowledge Center” tab, or simply click here.

At First Nations, Montoya currently supports the organization’s Strengthening Native American Nonprofits Program through technical assistance, training, site visits, institutes, and webinars for improving nonprofit capacity and organizational effectiveness. She implements several U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women grants, as well the Housing and Urban Development One CPD Technical Assistance grant. Most recently, she has taken on responsibility for overseeing a new project that will expand First Nations’ work to urban Indians and organizations, beyond its normal focus on rural and reservation-based Native communities.

‘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