Grantees & Grantmaking | January 31, 2023

Native Leaders from the Mountain | Plains Regional Native CDFI Coalition Reimagine Local and Regional Economies from the Ground Up. Here’s Why That’s Exciting.

The Coalition’s collaborative approach draws on Native cultural strengths.

Earlier this year, the Mountain | Plains Regional Native CDFI Coalition (the Coalition) invited funding partners to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

In the middle of the room sat a table for the nine Native leaders of the Coalition. Funder representatives—from philanthropies, banks, impact investors—were invited to take seats around the periphery of the room.

The agenda was to engage funding partners in the Build Back Better Regional Challenge—an initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA)—and explain the significant upfront funds-matching commitment it requires.

The seating choice modeled the importance of centering Native leaders and their work, while warmly inviting partners in. It’s a typical illustration of the thoughtful intentionality characteristic of the Coalition’s work, which leaves behind extractive economic policies in favor of healthy, circular, and local Native economies.

By working together as a bloc, the Coalition CDFIs can access funding and create more impact at a greater scale. And, their collaboration has paid off with a big win this fall: a recent grant of $45 million over five years.

Native CDFIs in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region are innovating collective strategies to better serve their communities.

By removing barriers to equitable access to financial services, Native CDFIs have been leading change in their communities for decades. The nine Coalition CDFIs—which are based in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—are leveraging an innovative collaborative strategy: By working together as a bloc, they can access funding and create more impact at a greater scale.

And, their collaboration has paid off with a big win this fall: a recent grant of $45 million over five years. The Coalition is one of 21 recipients nationwide of the EDA’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

$45M — EDA investment in the Mountain | Plains Native CDFI Coalition, the largest investment ever made in the Native CDFI industry, shared among a group of nine Native CDFIs.

$15M — Treasury Department’s average yearly investment in Native CDFIs, which is then split among 70 Native CDFIs.

This is just an initial step toward justice given that for every $.08 of wealth in a Native household, a white household has $1.00.

The Coalition centers Native women leaders, who bring a new wisdom to rebuilding systems.

The Coalition, like most Native CDFIs, flips the usual male-centered leadership model found in traditional financial institutions. Seven of the nine Coalition institutions are led by women. And they’re cultivating new approaches like trauma-infused training for staff members, onsite daycare, and deeply collaborative leadership.

Lakota Vogel, Executive Director, Four Bands Community Fund

In a recent video post about the Coalition, Lakota Vogel, executive director of Four Bands Community Fund, points out that Native women are most outside of the dominant power structures. This makes them uniquely positioned to see the impact of inequity and respond with systemic change rooted in justice.

Coalition members and NWAF staff from left: Barbara Schmitt, Black Hills Community Loan Fund; Lakota Vogel, Four Bands Community Fund; Angie Main, NACDC Financial Services; Sharon Small, People’s Partner for Community Development; Christianne Lind, NWAF; Skya Ducheneaux, Akiptan; Eric Swack, Wind River Development Fund; Jael Kampfe, Indigenous Impact Co.; Gerald Sherman, Indigenous Impact Co.; Karla Miller, NWAF

“We know from experience that coalitions of this kind work when they’re grassroots based, when they’re collaborative by design,” says Lakota. “And part of that grassroots approach is being realistic about our responsibilities and capacities.

“So we give each other a lot of grace, knowing that most of us are women and caretakers balancing many responsibilities. When one of us needs to step back, another will step in to cover. None of us are elbowing to be out front.”

Women leaders show how justice and inclusiveness lead to better solutions.

The Women’s Foundation of Montana (WFM) contributed to the EDA’s required funding match with a five-year, $125,000 grant targeted toward Coalition members based in Montana.

The WFM’s grant supports leadership development for women on Coalition staffs, a large proportion of whom are Native. “The women who lead or help lead these Native CDFIs are acutely aware of the multilayered challenges faced by those they serve,” observes Kylie Gursky, WFM’s program officer, “and they’re committed to rebuilding or creating systems that meet the needs of their communities in holistic ways.”

As Charlene Johnson, executive director and founder of Plenty Doors Community Development Corporation, one of the Coalition’s nine members, puts it, “Women play a huge role in anything that happens in Native communities. As long as I can remember, women in our community have done work, often without receiving the credit.”

Charlene Johnson, Executive Director and Founder, Plenty Doors Community Development Corporation

For centuries, Native communities have faced oppression through policies and practices that have taken away their land and power over decisions that might support their people and their way of life. This also includes Native women’s experiences with oppression. “Today’s Native women sit at the intersection of these injustices,” says Foundation Program Officer Christianne Lind.

“They’re finding more caring, loving ways to create systems that are just for everyone.”

Historically, many Indigenous communities in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region valued the leadership of women, making the Coalition’s female leadership not so much a novel approach as a continuation of Indigenous women’s leadership by seeing a community need and working to fill it.

The Coalition will use the $45 million EDA grant to fortify the regional Indigenous finance industry.

The women-led Coalition is aiming toward the overall goal of thriving local Native economies across the Mountain-Plains region—with Native entrepreneurs and families fully served by a responsive Indigenous finance industry. Toward that end, the Coalition plans four areas of focus.

The EDA dollars will help build:

    • Intellectual capital through strategy, data, and storytelling
    • Human capital through Coalition-wide workforce and professional development
    • Nonphysical infrastructure through sharing services such as IT maintenance to increase efficiencies
    • Physical infrastructure through a pilot development, the Crow Nation Innovation Center, which will inform future physical infrastructure expansion

The Coalition is also creating a $25 million regional revolving fund to help fill the ongoing gap in access to capital, particularly for small-business development. According to Lakota, the revolving fund will help the Coalition develop standardized business loan products.

Among its growing list of funder partners, the Mountain | Plains Regional Native CDFI Coalition includes:

Bush Foundation
Douglas Spencer 
First Interstate Bank Foundation
Jo Ann Eder
Montana Healthcare Foundation
Northwest Area Foundation
The Steele-Reese Foundation
Wells Fargo
Women’s Foundation of Montana
and others

If you’re interested in learning more, contact the Coalition’s regional competitiveness officer, Jael Kampfe.

The Coalition achieves the financial impact that Native CDFIs have become known for.

Over time, the braided strengths of Native CDFIs have resulted in strong returns on a double bottom line: social impact and financial performance.

They’re building equitable economies in Native communities by opening doors to loans, extending credit to thriving businesses, generating good jobs, and expanding access to new opportunities. And their success results from a holistic approach to lending that folds in cultural context with financial training and coaching.

“Native communities use the analogy of a three-strand braid—meaning one strand on its own isn’t as strong as two, two aren’t as resilient as three, and so forth,” shares Charlene. “The Coalition’s braid has nine strands—one for each member CDFI. That’s a lot of shared strength.”

The Coalition’s members achieve lower-than-average default rates, strong net asset ratios, and low write-off and delinquency rates. In short, investing in Native CDFIs is a wise business decision.

The Coalition provides a replicable model of how regional networks can scale successful solutions across communities, accelerating the systems change Native communities need.

Kelsie Kay’s Coffee Depot, Eagle Butte, SD, was founded in Four Bands Community Fund’s incubator space and now breathes new life into an old building on Main Street.

The Foundation has funded Native CDFIs for years, and we’re excited to see positive change accelerate.

For the last decade, we’ve placed 40 percent of overall yearly grantmaking with Native-led organizations—more than $72 million since making the commitment in 2012. But we’ve been supporting the change-leading work of Native CDFIs for three decades.

“The Foundation looks for ways to put our grantee partners in control of where grant dollars go—how they flow into Native communities,” describes Christianne.

The Foundation’s commitment to the Coalition so far is $1 million in grants. We’ve committed an additional $1 million in program-related investments (PRIs)—essentially low-interest loans.

Creating systems change takes time. But it’s also an opportunity for funders to build lasting relationships and commit to support that Native CDFIs can count on and plan around.

“Changing broken systems and moving toward justice in meaningful ways requires investors of all stripes—foundations in particular, but also impact investors and banks—to be part of the solution,” Christianne says. “We need to do this in healing ways that center and empower organizations making change in their communities. Like the Mountain | Plains Coalition members are doing across their region.”

Although the $45 million EPA grant is a historic investment in Native CDFIs, it’s just a fraction of what’s needed to repair centuries of injustice. Creating systems change takes time. But it’s also an opportunity for funders to build lasting relationships and commit to support that Native CDFIs can count on and plan around.

And, we’re inspired by the gifted and insightful Coalition leaders who are committed to stand with Native CDFIs for the long term.


Akiptan, Eagle Butte, SD

Black Hills Community Loan Fund, Rapid City, SD 

Four Bands Community Fund, Eagle Butte, SD

Island Mountain Community Development Financial Institution (dba Montana Native Growth Fund), Hays, MT

Lakota Funds, Kyle, SD

NACDC Financial Services, Browning, MT

Native American Development Corporation (NADC), Billings, MT

People’s Partner for Community Development, Lame Deer, MT

Plenty Doors Community Development Corporation, Crow Agency, MT

Wind River Development Fund, Fort Washakie, WY

Learn more about the Mountain | Plains Coalition:
Learn about how funders, banks, and impact investors are supporting the Coalition’s work:
Read more about Native CDFIs and mission investing:

PHOTO TOP: Seamstress working at the Paskho Oyate Sewing Pod, Eagle Butte, SD.

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