Native American Financial Services Association Celebrates Ten Years of Advocating for Tribal Sovereignty
Over ten years ago, Native American tribes met to officially launch the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA), a 501(c)(6) trade association charged with protecting tribes’ sovereign rights and promoting e-commerce in Indian Country.
“NAFSA was created during a period when tribes that were rightfully exercising their sovereign right to economic self determination were increasingly under attack by bodies looking to use every available legislative and regulatory mechanism to put the economic arms of tribes out of business,” said Gary Davis, NAFSA’s Executive Director. “Ten years later, those tribes’ businesses are not just still operating, but they are thriving and continuing to expand. We are proud of NAFSA’s role in advocating for these tribes, their businesses, and their sovereign rights.”
“I am proud to have served NAFSA for the past ten years and to have seen firsthand the impact that this organization has had on protecting our tribal sovereignty and tribal businesses,” said John R. Shotton, Chairman of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians and Chairman of NAFSA’s Board of Directors. “In addition to the vital financial resources that our financial services businesses provide our community, they also have a major economic impact in the counties around our tribe. There are a lot of people who depend on the revenues our businesses generate.”
At the time NAFSA was created, tribal nations throughout the country were being hit much harder than the rest of the country by the 2012 market crash, with some reservations experiencing unemployment rates in excess of 70-80 percent.
“Our reservation is 40 miles away from Canada and 30 minutes away from the nearest Walmart, so e-commerce has really been a tremendous blessing for our Tribe,” said Calvin Jilot, a Councilman for the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Montana and NAFSA’s Treasurer. “While we may be isolated in a very rural area, the internet has allowed us to reach customers across the country, opening up many new avenues to fund our Tribal government’s essential services and balancing the economic playing field for our tribe.”
Revenues from tribal e-commerce businesses have been able to help offset decades of federal funding shortfalls that have left tribes unable to properly provide even the most basic health, educational, housing, public safety, and food services to their tribal communities. Federal funding and services are promised to tribes by treaty and subsequently the U.S. has consistently failed in carrying out its trust responsibilities to Indian Country.
Where geographic isolation and distance from major population centers have made traditional brick and mortar businesses unrealistic and insufficient to meet tribes’ funding needs, many tribes have created e-commerce businesses as a way to generate much needed revenues in order to provide critical services to their members.
“We are long past the era where tribes can rely on one business or industry to make ends meet and fund their governmental services,” said Mark N. Fox, Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors. “Today, economic diversification isn’t just an option or a luxury for tribes, it’s an absolute necessity to survive.”
Still, despite the success of tribal financial services businesses in providing critical funding to tribal communities, aggressive legislative and regulatory actions threatened their existence. Over the years, NAFSA has provided robust advocacy and education to help bridge the information gap in Washington, DC and across the country. Today tribal financial services businesses have seen their economic activities flourish and become increasingly more sophisticated, particularly as several tribes have since acquired third-party businesses and service providers.
“Our financial services businesses are a vital part of our overall economic development portfolio and provide much-needed opportunities for our tribal members to develop skills and long-term job growth opportunities,” said Sandra Knight, Vice-Chairperson of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria and NAFSA Vice-Chairperson. “Our financial service businesses importantly allow more of our tribal members the opportunity to achieve their potential through meaningful and rewarding careers.”
NAFSA further fulfills its mission by providing educational resources to its members including an annual regulatory and compliance training, where members hear from experts on matters pertaining to the industry. NAFSA also distributes daily, weekly and monthly updates, blogs and articles which provide its members with the latest information important to tribes engaged in the financial services sector. NAFSA also proudly offers a free, one-of-a-kind, online financial literacy program. The program provides users with a series of easy-to-follow modules and tools, helping them better comprehend their finances and make more informed decisions.
“We look forward to the next ten years of advocating for NAFSA’s tribal membership, the important businesses they operate and sovereign tribal economic development activities across Indian Country.” said Davis.
About the Native American Financial Services Association
NAFSA is a national trade association formed to advocate for tribal sovereignty, promote responsible financial services, and provide better economic opportunity in Indian Country for the benefit of tribal communities. Formed in 2012 and located in Washington D.C., NAFSA improves the welfare of sovereign nations through new e-commerce business and employment opportunities in the financial services industry and fights discriminatory practices against tribal government-owned businesses that operate in compliance with the applicable laws of the United States of America. For more information, visit https://nativefinance.org/.