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.