First Nations’ Jackie Francke Named to USDA Advisory Council

Jackie Francke

Jackie Francke

In March 2016, First Nations’ own Jackie Francke (Navajo), vice president of programs and administration, was appointed to the USDA Regional Tribal Conservation Advisory Council (RTCAC) for the West Region. This is an advisory body for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Jackie will serve as a tribal organization representative, along with others who were appointed as tribal representatives.

The RTCAC will provide communications between the tribal entities and the conservation service, and gather feedback on tribal issues. Representatives provide a direct line of communication between tribes, tribal affiliates and Native organizations such as First Nations, and the conservation service. The RTCAC provides a needed platform under which the conservation service and tribes can work together at the state and local levels on conservation issues. The advisory council will assist the conservation service in identifying ways to improve relationships with tribes as it relates to these and other issues:

  • Providing quality service through programs and service, including technical and financial assistance.
  • Promoting strong partnerships and teamwork.
  • Providing tribes the opportunity to offer feedback on agency programs and services.
  • Assisting tribes in enhancing their capacity in natural resources conservation.
  • Delivering the most effective resource conservation technology.

Congratulations Jackie!

Navajo Nation & CFPB Aim at Illegal Tax-Refund Scheme

For many low-income families in Gallup, New Mexico, the tax refund they receive at the beginning of the year can help make ends meet and pay for important expenses. Unfortunately, tax preparers look forward to those tax refunds, too – and to siphoning off a portion of a taxpayer’s refund for their own profit.

Research that First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) conducted in 2012 documented a range of unfair, deceptive and abusive financial practices conducted by tax preparers in the city of Gallup, which borders the Navajo Nation and where nearly half the population is Native American.

During the 2012 tax season, First Nations conducted mystery shopper visits to tax preparation firms in Gallup and other New Mexico border towns. We documented a range of problems with tax time loans, including steering people toward high-cost, refund-anticipation loans or check products when a simple deposit into a bank account would have saved the taxpayer money. More significantly, First Nations documented one case in which a taxpayer was extended a loan against her tax refund even though the company had already received the tax refund from the IRS. “They gave her a loan against money that was rightly hers, and didn’t bother to tell her that her refund had already been paid to them by the IRS,” shared Shawn Spruce, a consultant and taxpayer advocate who conducted the mystery shopper visit with the taxpayer. “We suspected that it wasn’t an isolated incident and contacted authorities.” A single mother with three dependents, the taxpayer eventually filed a complaint against the company through the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a federal agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. First Nations shared our mystery shopper reports with key investigative staff at the CFPB in the spring of 2013. “We appreciate First Nations for bringing their report to our attention. The report was troubling and the bureau’s investigation confirmed many of the findings,” stated CFPB’s Samuel Gilford. The CFPB has the ability to subpoena records from financial firms if they suspect a pattern of potentially illegal activity.

On April 14, 2015, the CFPB announced that, together with the Navajo Nation, it is taking action against S/W Tax Loans, Inc., a company that they claim operated an illegal tax-refund scheme. The scheme was based on tax-preparation franchises steering low-income consumers, including many citizens of the Navajo Nation, toward high-cost refund-anticipation loans. A proposed order, if approved by the court, would result in roughly $438,000 in total consumer redress and require the defendants to pay $438,000 in civil penalties for their unfair, deceptive and abusive practices.

The complaint states that the tax-preparation firm illegally steered vulnerable consumers to high-cost products and illegally and grossly understated the loans’ annual percentage rates. Most importantly, the complaint alleges that the tax firm unfairly failed to disclose the availability of consumers’ tax refunds. They failed to disclose to more than 1,500 consumers that their tax refunds had been received from the IRS and were already being processed by the company. Instead, when these consumers inquired about the status of their refund, they persuaded the consumers to take out a second or third refund-anticipation loan. As a result, many consumers were led to pay a substantial finance charge for an unnecessary high-interest loan.

“We are concerned with asset stripping and predatory lending,” shared Michael E. Roberts, president of First Nations Development Institute. “We applaud the efforts of the Navajo Nation and the CFPB to stop the abuse of low-income taxpayers.”

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

Five New Staff Members Join First Nations

Left to right are Elton, Tawny, Kendall and Anita

Over the past few months, First Nations has welcomed five new staff members. They are Anita Conner, Eileen Egan, Elton Naswood, Kendall Tallmadge and Tawny Wilson.

Anita is our new Finance Assistant.  She has worked in accounting and systems-support functions at various companies in Boulder County, Colorado, with many of those years at StorageTek.

Eileen Egan

Eileen is our new Associate Director of Development and Senior Program Officer. Eileen, who is a member of the Hopi Tribe, worked for many years in fundraising for the American Indian College Fund and most recently was providing fundraising counsel and organizational development services for nonprofits.

Elton joined us as a Program Officer.  Elton, who is Navajo, previously was a capacity-building assistance specialist at the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center and, before that, was founder and program coordinator for the Red Circle Project, AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Kendall also joined us as a Program Officer. She is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. She previously worked in the museum field and focused on improving relationships between museums and Native communities.

Tawny is also a new Program Officer. She is Rosebud Sioux. Before joining First Nations, Tawny spent more than a decade in various roles in the finance industry as a licensed mortgage broker, banker and sales manager.

You can learn more about our entire staff at this link:

New Staffers Join First Nations

L to R are Rachel, Thomas, Sonya and Autumn

 We welcomed three new employees in the latter part of 2013, plus one in early 2014.

Rachel Vernon was hired as a program officer. Rachel, who is Yaqui and Mescalero Apache, holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and is currently completing her master’s degree in ethnic studies at Colorado State University (CSU). For the previous year, she worked at the Native American Cultural Center at CSU, helping grow the organization’s fundraising capability and assisting with management of Native student outreach projects. Before returning to Colorado to pursue her master’s degree, she was a development associate at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in Oakland, California.

Thomas Cristiano joined us as finance assistant. He brings a diverse background in finance, accounting and entrepreneurial endeavors. Thomas began his career in investment banking in Manhattan, where he analyzed money market, foreign exchange and derivative products, plus he managed the hybrid derivative group for JP Morgan. He holds a bachelor’s Degree in finance, graduating Magna Cum Laude, from the University of Colorado Boulder.  He also has studied at Pace University, the College for Financial Planning and the American Institute of Banking.

Sonya Todacheene, who is Navajo, joined us as executive assistant. She previously was an executive assistant at the University of Colorado Boulder.  She also has six years of experience working for a national, nonprofit educational organization, which included administration of scholarship and membership programs, meeting planning and coordination, and database management. She will coordinate our Board of Directors’ meetings and materials, serve as property manager, and provide general administrative support.

Autumn Romero, who is Chippewa Cree and Lakota, joined the staff in January 2014 as part-time receptionist. She will handle our front-desk responsibilities and other activities one day a week. She is also a second-year, pre-med student at the University of Colorado – Denver, where she is studying psychology.


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.

23 Groups Receive Native Youth & Culture Fund Grants

In October, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) announced the selection of 23 American Indian and Alaska Native organizations to receive grants totaling $400,000 through First Nations’ Native Youth and Culture Fund, which is underwritten by the Kalliopeia Foundation with contributions from other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters.

The Native Youth and Culture Fund is part of First Nations’ effort to strengthen Native American nonprofit organizations, with the intent to preserve, strengthen and/or renew American Indian culture and tradition among tribal youth. The grants support the projects and provide capacity-building and training to the organizations’ staff members. All of the funded projects demonstrate creative and innovative approaches, whether through traditional knowledge, art, language or a program or business enterprise.

The complete list of grantees and their project descriptions can be found here: The projects cover a variety of areas, including youth-elder intergenerational programs, cultivating responsibility and leadership, language programs, traditional foods and farming, wellness, history and cultural documentation.

Tribal entities represented in this year’s awards include the Northern Cheyenne, Cochiti, Dakotah/Dakota, Lakota, Euchee, Mohawk, Grand Ronde, Lumbee, Lummi, Menominee, Diné/Navajo, Nez Perce, Santa Ana, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Quinault, Santo Domingo, Haida and Zuni.

First Nations & Native America Calling Team Up on Radio Programs with Financial Focus

The national radio program Native America Calling and First Nations Development Institute teamed up this summer to offer a series of radio programs with a financial focus.   The series, which first aired June 14, was broadcast each Friday through July 12.

In the first program, host Tara Gatewood and expert guests discussed common selling and lending practices by automobile dealers in and around Native communities. Calvin Lee, an attorney with Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, shared information about problems people have had with unethical car dealers near the Navajo Nation.   A second broadcast featured a conversation about minor’s trust payments and how young people can successfully prepare for receiving these large payments, or their “Big Money.”

Another program provided information about how to use credit wisely. The remaining shows focused on “an Indigenous perspective on spending” and understanding retirement planning.

These programs were sponsored in part by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Each weekly broadcast included a brief conversation with the “financial warrior” known as Dr. Per Cap. Dr. Per Cap originated as an advice column sponsored by First Nations that was designed to assist individuals and families in becoming financially independent.  On each program, producer Monica Braine consulted Dr. Per Cap for advice on a financial topic, and he shared his insights, advice and wisdom.

Native America Calling, produced by the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation (a Native-operated media center in Anchorage, Alaska), is a live, call-in program linking public radio stations, the Internet and listeners together in a thought-provoking national conversation about issues specific to Native communities.  It is heard on more than 52 stations in the United States and Canada by approximately 500,000 listeners each week.

For more information about the radio show, please visit, and for information about the Dr. Per Cap advice columns, visit

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