The Citizen Potawatomi Nation, like other Native American groups in the United States, continues to struggle with higher poverty levels than non-Native populations. The median income of Citizen Potawatomi in Oklahoma is $38,846, substantially lower than the general United States median of $41,994. Furthermore, 15% of Oklahoma’s Citizen Potawatomi members live below the poverty line, a higher percentage than either the national Citizen Potawatomi average (9.7%) or the general United States average (12%).
The Native American Lending Study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 2001, identifies “a lack of access to capital and financial services in Native American communities” as a significant factor contributing to the dearth of economic opportunity in Indian Country. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has identified these financing difficulties as larger obstacles to the Nation’s self-sufficiency, self-determination, and self-governance. It sought alternative methods of small business financing for its members to fight this enduring cycle of poverty and to ensure the Tribe’s viability as an independent, sovereign entity.
In 1992, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation purchased the First National Bank and Trust (FNB) in an effort to diversify its economic base, provide access to capital, and acquire financial expertise for the Tribal community. However, due to regulatory restrictions and capital constraints, the FNB has had to turn away many businesses. To meet the complex needs of Native American enterprises, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation founded the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation (CPCDC). The CPCDC provides tools to enable Native American businesses to achieve managerial and financial stability and independence; this self-sustainability will, in turn, contribute to the economic viability of their communities.
The mission of the CPCDC is to expand the capacities of small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs by providing access to capital through loan fund support and business development services to members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and other Native American groups. The CPCDC also seeks to create jobs and to increase investment and incomes in Indian Country (measured by job creation, increased income, decreased unemployment, and number of loans to low- and moderate-income native Americans). CPCDC directly addresses its members’ need for access to small business financing; in so doing, it helps Tribal members increase their job security, incomes, and financial literacy skills, while building their assets as a long-term solution to poverty.
Since 2003, through its Business Development Workshop Series, Direct Staff Technical Assistance, and Financial Education and Credit Counseling programs, the CPCDC has provided approximately 1,200 hours of development services to almost 500 clients. These business development initiatives strengthen Native American business through ongoing pre- and post-loan technical assistance by monitoring clients’ progress through the collection of quantitative data.
These development services play a special role in helping low- and moderate-income Native Americans to improve their financial and business management skills. Clients participate in an initial consultation visit to identify needs and prepare a customized plan of action. Through one-on-one consultation and workshop instruction, participants learn how to prepare a business plan, finance a small business, set up a bookkeeping system, conduct market research, prepare effective advertising, contract with governments, and understand business legal issues. In addition, before applying for a commercial loan and upon loan closing, the CPCDC’s staff provides intensive ongoing technical support to assist the borrower in developing a strong, viable business.
To date, the CPCDC has approved 78 loans, totaling $4,996,174, for a variety of Native American business ventures. Of all the loans made, 90% are to members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Sixty-one loans are to Native American businesses in Oklahoma, six in Kansas, four in Oregon, two in Mississippi, two in California, and one each in Missouri, Montana, and Texas. The average loan amount is $61,000, and the number of jobs created and retained is 218. The CPCDCC has also made 511 consumer loans for a total of $453,909. The CPN Employee Loan Program is an effort to combat predatory payday lenders.
Today, the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation continues the Tribal entrepreneurial spirit, both on an individual and on a Tribal level: individually, the CPCDC focuses its efforts on asset-building strategies such as financial literacy and business development training. On a Tribal level, the CPCDC is a critical building block for a vibrant, sustainable economy based on long-term business ventures rather than community-based jobs programs.