Interview with Tanya Fiddler, Four Bands Community Fund

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Tanya Fiddler is the Executive Director of the Four Bands Community Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that focuses on entrepreneurship and economic stability among the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation population. She was a recipient of the Asset Build Champion Award at the 2015 Color of Wealth Summit.

What makes Four Bands different? What recommendations would you give to another individual looking to start up a CDFI?

We aren’t afraid to invest in people and we are introducing an economic development model that is community- and culturally- reinforced. Our reservation derives most of its income and jobs from the tribal, state, or federal levels. We are creating private sector jobs, one job at a time often, but more able to sustain in a remote area. I would recommend other CDFIs to identify the social and economic barriers in your community/target market, and design programs, services and products that truly help level the playing field for economic justice. Working on behalf of our Native communities in South Dakota, I find we are still just peeping through a hole in the fence while all the wealth and job creation is happening for the rest of the state. We want parity in South Dakota for opportunities in the economic mainstream, but others are often unaware of the barriers we face locally, and rurally. It’s a full-time job to educate and advocate but that tends to generate a very strong business model for CDFI development.

Promoting economic security and financial literacy among any population comes with a myriad of problems, but what are some unexpected challenges you have faced over the years?

We found that although we have traditional financial institutions on our Reservation, they do not report consumer credit/loans to credit bureaus, subjecting many of their customers to higher interest rate financing for assets like cars, homes and business loans, if they can access them at all. This makes Native Americans subject to using payday loans, title loans, and other predatory products to finance basic life essentials, meanwhile stripping income from households that need it the most. That is unexpected for us because there is so much federal consumer protection law, but credit reporting is not required of financial institutions, especially the smaller independent banks. We have overcome that through partnerships in our industry that support Four Bands to report credit to the major repositories.

Tell us about your biggest passion. If you were forced to champion a single issue that Four Bands tackles, what would it be and why?

I see lots of opportunity in our community and reservation areas, especially in arts, culture and recreational tourism. This sector naturally taps into the existing human capital here on Cheyenne River. I would like to support families and community corporations in securing assets and building small businesses in the area. I believe educating others and owning our heritage will do a lot to reaffirm the culture we were punished for in the last century. I believe it will revive our people in some meaningful way that will build a foundation for their children’s future. The “Governments” have over regulated and stifled our ability to develop economy through many major policies…it’s time we take back our right to own and control our destinies meanwhile balancing treaty obligations and tribal sovereignty. It’s an exciting area for potential job creation and community empowerment and I would like to spend time engaging families, one by one, until we understand our roles and how we can strengthen our systems for interdependence, vs. dependence on outsiders for solutions.

What are some things outsiders are unaware of when it comes to the Cheyenne River Sioux population? What are the biggest takeaways for visitors?

Our Lakota people are friendly and generous, and we develop holistically. We are natural innovators, surviving a huge social, economic, cultural, educational and communal near- genocide, yet still seeing our value on the earth as caretakers, providers, and protectors. Visitors begin to understand our values and principles, relate to them and become relatives in cause and sometimes within Lakota families. We are all related and we walk that out well. We have beautiful remote experiences available and look for ways to share our culture and history with the outside world.

We would love some remarks that highlight your success in making Four Bands an indispensable leader in the CDFI community. What do you think has been the biggest achievement Four Bands has made since being established in 2002?

I believe that successfully lending over $8 million in an untested, underserved market to promote credit and business-asset development, in two of the poorest, most rural counties in America is the achievement above all. The ongoing demand is huge and we are beginning to create the fair lending models that others have tried to dictate through federal law and bank regulation. It’s not in our nature to take advantage of people, we look for ways to partner in order to develop opportunities. That fairness helps promote the relationships in community to affect and transcend ineffective systems, it brings the community buy-in that is a must for long-term success. In spite of the high poverty, unemployment and lack of infrastructure or “fill in the blank,” it has been our role but more so privilege to remind ourselves that we are cultures of excellence…we have developed from the inside out as an organization, knowing we will not be respected unless we walk our talk with respect for our customers.

What is something you wish the entire US population knew? What issue do you feel is overlooked at great cost to the US population?

I wish the US population, but more so elected officials, understood the real cost of depleting non-renewable resources for the sake of an over-consuming, greed-driven model. I really can’t see who it has benefitted…maybe the big guys at the top but certainly not the average American family, worker, or child.

Click here to learn more about Tanya Fiddler and her work.

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