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Lakota people have a saying: wicoicage sakowin kin un wicakagapi. It means “building for the seventh generation.” As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, my personal journey has been deeply rooted in challenging injustices affecting young generations of Native Americans.
I saw how historic injustices in public policy and practice had created huge disparities in my own community. Public education policies touted as the “great equalizer” were implemented as forced assimilation, removing native children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools charged with “civilizing the Indian.”
Additionally, wealth stripping policies like the General Allotment Act of 1887 distributed communal tribal lands to individual tribal members and sold the “surplus” to white settlers. As a result, tribal lands were reduced from 138 to 48 million acres in a span of 40 years.
The impact of these policies has left many Native Americans asset-less which has significantly shaped the opportunities for our children.
As a corps member, I struggled to define what was in my locus of control to change. Multigenerational poverty and the lack of job opportunities continuously stood out as a hurdle that was difficult for my students and their families to overcome.
I observed how critical and basic needs would compete for family resources and quickly consume available funds. At times, this model of resource depletion appeared to be the only model familiar to youth in my community. Classroom discussions on financial management were often limited because students did not feel they were relevant.
The success of the seventh generation will depend on overcoming the racial wealth gap. Schools and community organizations can partner together to provide relevant and practical financial education in schools.
A Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) is helping to make a difference in the South Dakota comunity where Teach For America serves. The Four Bands Community Fund creates economic opportunity by helping people build strong and sustainable small businesses and increase their financial capability to create assets and wealth.
Four Bands established Making Waves—a comprehensive program that focuses on key behaviors that youth and those who influence them need to incorporate into their lives—to replace poverty and unemployment with financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
Making Waves includes lessons taught in classrooms and emphasizes hands-on experiences that allow youth to practice what they learn. Youth play games involving money, get assistance starting a business, have opportunities to work through an entrepreneur internship, and receive incentives for opening a savings account.
Making Waves is helping young adults on the Cheyenne River Reservation become better equipped to create and accumulate wealth. For example, a local student started mowing lawns at the age of 7 and established a strong clientele and steady income. As he entered high school, he wanted to expand his business by purchasing a riding lawn mower and a weed eater. A Four Bands employee approached the student and helped him open a savings account. Using the resources of Four Bands Community Fund and making monthly deposits into his savings account, he received a 3: 1 match on his savings. With this money, the student was able to purchase the equipment he needed to operate more efficiently and increase the amount of income he earned.
CDFI’s like Four Bands partner with schools to provide intergenerational, community-based learning opportunities that increase children’s economic mobility. Native communities have the human capital and resources to overcome poverty and build for the seventh generation—let’s start now by acknowledging financial education as a curriculum worthy of attention.
Lakota Mowrer is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. Upon graduation, she joined the 2006 South Dakota corps and taught on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Lakota obtained her Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree from Washington University in St. Louis with the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies. Lakota is the Assistant Director of the Four Bands Community Fund.