Perspectives Online

Extension joins partners in program to help Cherokee youths deal with windfall a-de-la (money)

children from the Qualla Boundary reservation are taught financial management lessons well in advance of the time they receive their share of tribal profits.
Thanks to a collaborative education program, children from the Qualla Boundary reservation are taught financial management lessons well in advance of the time they receive their share of tribal profits.
(Photo by Art Latham)
When, after generations of scarcity, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began to realize profits from new casino operations, the tribe shared the income with its enrolled members. However, the EBCI’s per capita payments – particularly those held in trust for the tribe’s youngest members — gave rise to concerns among parties from the tribe, Western Carolina University, N.C. Cooperative Extension and a United Way agency.

Now their collaborative effort has resulted in the creation of a cooperative financial education program, Qualla Financial Freedom. (It is named for the EBCI’s mountainous reservation, known as Qualla Boundary.)

Tribal member Roseanna Belt, director of Western Carolina University Cherokee Center, saw that the annual per capita payment created special issues for the tribe’s young people. The payments vary, depending on the tribe’s gaming revenues and have recently been about $6,000 annually per tribal member. The tribe holds funds in trust for tribal youngsters until they graduate from high school and reach their 18th birthday — quite a windfall to be received at such a young age.

“It is very tempting for them to withdraw their funds,” Belt says. “Many have not learned financial management skills, so they spent their trust funds very quickly on cars and other items young people crave, only to find belatedly they do not qualify for financial aid for college, since the federal government views the single trust payout as a sizable annual income.”

Belt talked with many tribal members who work with young people and concluded that the Cherokee Center should develop a financial education program for children as young as 9, to teach them financial management skills long before their 18th birthday. She applied for a Cherokee Preservation Foundation grant.

About the same time, Heather James, N.C. Cooperative Extension 4-H agent for the reservation, saw the per capita payment-related problems the young people had and also began to think about creating a financial education program for 12- to 16-year-olds to teach personal financial and entrepreneurial skills.

“Extension is committed to strengthening families by providing dynamic, issues-driven education to foster informed decision-makers,” says James. “Our programs share research-based knowledge and information about such topics as family financial management.”

Since financial education is a traditional Cooperative Extension service, she also applied for a Cherokee Preservation Foundation grant.

Meanwhile, notice also was growing at a nonprofit United Way agency, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Western North Carolina. The agency for 30 years has helped western North Carolinians manage money and credit through free, professional money-management counseling and debt-repayment programs.

In 2000, CCCS, noting that many EBCI members drove to Asheville for help, began providing one-on-one financial counseling services on the Qualla Boundary (EBCI Reservation) several times a month, thanks to a Community Foundation of Western North Carolina grant.

“We wanted to expand our presence in Cherokee to identify and meet more of the community’s needs,” says Celeste Collins, CCCS executive director, “so in 2002 we applied to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation for a grant.”

“The Cherokee Preservation Foundation saw immediately that it had been approached by three organizations with similar visions, each staffed by very good people, none of which was aware of the others,” Belt says.

CPF quickly fixed that, informing all three it would award grants to each if they worked together to create a single collaborative effort.

With help from Dr. Oak Winters, WCU’s dean of continuing education, they shared needs assessments, brainstormed about curricula, researched resource material and interviewed and hired the staff for the program they named Qualla Financial Freedom.

In 2002, the combined grants funded the first-year QFF salaries for the program director and a part-time staff person, curriculum-consulting assistance from WCU’s School of Business and program creation costs.

Winona Squirrel of WCU’s Cherokee Center manages QFF, with help from Emra Arkansas, Extension’s QFF program assistant.

“We founded the program so there would be a central, recognizable name, a financial education clearinghouse for the area,” Squirrel says. “And we intend to expand our outreach.”

With a comprehensive program instead of three redundant ones, the QFF partnership provides EBCI members with local opportunities to learn money and credit management skills that ensure a solid financial future and prevent crises.

“The program makes a big difference for families on the Qualla Boundary,” Belt says.

Extension provides educational programs to help child-care professionals provide safe, nurturing and appropriate programs such as Mini-Society.

Mini-Society is an experience-based instructional system targeted primarily for teaching entrepreneurship, economics, and citizenship concepts to students ages 8 to 12. Mini-Society is popular in out-of-school and summer camp venues such as 4-H clubs.

“We have real goods and services, marketing and employees,” says Arkansas. “The kids learn if it’s broken, it needs to be fixed and that comes with a price.”

And with QFF’s help, the kids shouldn’t have to learn such lessons the hard way.

–Art Latham