On July 24, Tanya Fiddler, Executive Director of Four Bands Community Fund, a community loan fund located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, spoke on a panel at the Rural Opportunity Investment (ROI) Conference hosted by the White House Rural Council in Washington, D.C. The panel titled, “Co-Investing with Treasury,” raised awareness of U.S. Treasury-supported programs that are designed to connect large-scale private investment and smaller-scale capital needs in rural America, including Indian reservations.
Fiddler’s discussion focused around dispelling myths about investing in Indian country and explained a wide array of ways to invest in Indian country, such as through Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs). “It is always an honor to speak on behalf of Indian country, and events like the ROI Conference are just what we need to overcome the economic development challenges Indian reservations throughout the country continue to struggle with,” says Fiddler.
She explains one of the key roadblocks in attracting outside investments is lack of knowledge, which translates into increased risk by potential lenders. “Larger investors typically are not familiar with Indian country and don’t know how to invest even if they wanted to. This panel gave me the opportunity to put the message out there that Indian country isn’t scary, and there are proven investment models that are successfully and effectively building up our reservation communities,” states Fiddler.
Native CDFIs, such as the one Fiddler runs, accept investments from individuals, banks, and other organizations, and then re-lend those dollars to help start businesses, create jobs, or provide homeownership opportunities in communities that are underserved by mainstream financial institutions. “We have intimate market knowledge and understand how things work on our reservation, so to us this is just business as normal,” Fiddler says.
The ROI Conference was a two-day event centered on unmet needs for investments in rural America. It intended to match investments with opportunities by connecting senior leaders from financial institutions and other investors with rural business leaders, government officials, and economic development experts. The Treasury investment panel took place on the second day of the ROI Conference and was moderated by Mary John Miller, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance of the U.S. Department of Treasury, and also featured Gene Eagle, President of Arkansas Development Finance Authority, and Dan Letendre, Senior Vice President of Bank of America, as panelists. The first day of the conference, which Fiddler was also invited to, was comprised of a meeting of select individuals at the White House.