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WASHINGTON — An annual award that recognizes Native financial institutions for providing access to fair, affordable funding in Indian Country has named its three honorees for 2022. 

A trio of Native community development financial institutions — Akiptan Inc., Haa Yakaawu Financial Corporation, and Nimiipuu Fund — received recognition as the winners of the 2022 Native CDFI Awards on Oct. 19. The awards are made possible through a partnership with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), Oweesta Corporation and Wells Fargo. 

“Native CDFIs open avenues for economic opportunity through innovative financial products, advanced capacity building efforts, and deep relationships with their respective tribal communities,” Chrystel Cornelius, president and CEO of Oweesta Corporation, said in a statement. “It is an honor to recognize these Native CDFIs who are reaching deep into their communities to finance change.

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Launched in 2019, the national awards recognize Native CDFIs for creating economic opportunity and promoting wealth building within their tribal communities.

“Native-led CDFIs make Indian Country stronger,” Dawson Her Many Horses, senior vice president and head of Native American banking at Wells Fargo, said in a statement. “We are proud to recognize Akiptan, Haa Yakaawu, and Nimiipuu Fund for their tireless efforts to reduce inequities by deploying financial products that support housing, small business, food production, and more.”

Two of the Native CDFIs — Akiptan, Inc. and Haa Yakaawu — were recognized with Catalyst Awards, which support compelling strategies to help tribal communities overcome barriers to economic development and access to capital. The Catalyst Awards come with a $150,000 grant.

Akiptan is a certified Native CDFI whose mission is to connect Native agricultural producers with capital and other resources they need to succeed. Based in Eagle Butte, S.D. on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, Akiptan will use the grant award to increase staff, develop new financial literacy tools for agricultural producers, and design a youth-focused financial literacy learning game.

Akiptan Executive Director Skya Ducheneaux called the award “incredibly exciting and humbling.” 

“It’s an acknowledgment that Akiptan’s hard work is paying off, and we are really making a difference in Indian Country,” Ducheneaux said in a statement. “The award presents an opportunity not only to expand our reach to more Native agricultural producers but also to tell our story and share our successes with other Native CDFIs, as well as the broader CDFI and financial industries.”

Southeast Alaska-based Haa Yakaawu fosters self-sufficiency for tribal citizens and organizations through homeownership. With the Catalyst Award, Haa Yakaawu will expand a home loan package tailored to the needs of Native families. In addition, in a region where geography pose a barrier, Haa Yakaawu will build its mortgage loan pipeline by bringing in-person loan counseling and technical assistance to borrowers in small Alaska villages.

“CDFIs are always strained by our limited funds for operations. The award offers a tremendous opportunity for us to expand our operations so we can reach more tribal communities in some of the most remote areas of Southeast Alaska,” Jacqueline Pata, president and CEO of Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority, said in a statement. THRHA partners with Haa Yakaawu and represents 12 of the region’s 19 tribal communities. 

Meanwhile, Nimiipuu Fund was recognized with a Seed Award, given to an emerging Native CDFI with a strategy showing potential for success. Nimiipuu Fund promotes economic growth while embracing the cultural values of the Nez Perce Reservation and surrounding communities. With the $75,000 grant, the Native CDFI will launch a home rehabilitation lending product to meet the need for quality affordable housing.

“This award will allow us to expand our current suite of loan products to address what our community needs,” Jonelle Yearout, executive director of Nimiipuu Fund, said in a statement. “Our CDFI is working to improve the housing stock and quality of life on the reservation.”

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