Dr. Per Cap’s 2015 Financial Literacy All Stars
First Nations Development Institute is proud to partner with Dr. Per Cap during Financial Literacy Month to highlight the great work of some financial literacy heroes. Dr. Per Cap, as usual, provides his insight on all things related to Native American financial education.
Dr. Per Cap’s Financial Literacy 2015 All-Star Picks
April is national Financial Literacy Month, so let’s celebrate by recognizing a few outstanding individuals who are working hard to expand financial education efforts throughout Indian Country. In keeping with what has become an annual tradition each week in April, I will highlight the accomplishments of one totally awesome person who embodies the spirit of Native financial empowerment through selfless dedication, action over words, and an inclusive community vision.
All Star #4: Nikki Pieratos, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Eagle Federal Credit Union
Studies reveal that finances are a leading source of stress and anxiety for many Americans. Sadly, there is often no obvious or ready solution to this problem. For the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota – a community famous for its one-of-a-kind, canoe-harvested wild rice – that’s changing fast, thanks in large part to Nikki Pieratos.
Aside from what Nikki proudly describes as “Home to the best wild rice in the world!” Bois Forte is now gaining major props as a harvester of high-grade financial services and education. It all dates back to five years ago when Nikki, a Bois Forte Band member, was hired to charter Northern Eagle Federal Credit Union.
“Before we opened I began hosting monthly financial education workshops,” explains the former high school history teacher with a Master’s in Public Policy and Economics. “We started with basics like budgeting and savings and expanded into advanced tracks on accessing credit, vehicle purchases, HUD 184 home loans, and college planning. The fun and interactive classes were a hit with tribal employees because our tribal council allowed them to attend during work hours.”
Managing a tribal credit union has given Nikki an exclusive view into the value of financial literacy. She has observed firsthand the positive impacts that newly learned skills make in members’ lives. Over half of all community members have received some type of financial education through the Northern Eagle Federal Credit Union during the 18 months since its doors opened. Innovation was the key with tasty offerings such as a “Planning for Per Cap” class in which summer youth workers create a two-year plan for their funds. Recognizing that a car purchase is usually on the menu for a millennial flush with cash, the curriculum includes juicy tips for car shopping and maintenance. Teens are quick to catch on, with one commenting after class: “Awwww, I guess I won’t get a brand new tricked out Escalade … I had no idea that insurance was that high … or maintenance!”
An Administration for Native Americans (ANA) grant to fund more formal financial education programs has been another coup for Nikki. The grant funded a full-time financial education instructor, highly engaging financial simulation workshops, and a partnership with Minnesota’s largest nonprofit financial counseling service, LSS Financial Choice.
On an even larger scale, Nikki has high hopes for financial empowerment throughout Indian Country and envisions homegrown financial institutions that are in tune with the needs of Native communities. Specifically, she sees an opportunity to create referral networks and partnerships with tribal departments such as housing, education and human services, noting the fact that financial issues run across every spectrum of a person’s life. She also sees a role in promoting Native credit unions by providing other tribes with assistance on how to charter their own institutions.
“We certainly faced challenges when starting Northern Eagle,” Nikki adds. “So I can relate to Native people who want a credit union that offers a comfortable setting for members to access services and ask questions. As we grow, we would like to become more involved in state, regional and national asset-building discussions to share and learn best-practices.”
When not working – which these days isn’t very often – Nikki enjoys spending time with friends and family, especially her four and five-year-old nephews who she says add up to a better workout than a Zumba class. But overall she maintains a great sense of humor and readily embraces the long hours, sacrifices and enormous responsibility that her career entails.
“I am not the greatest fan of accounting,” she jokes, “but I see it as a necessary evil to do the work that I am really passionate about: keeping the credit union open so we can serve our members. And we have the greatest members of any credit union—hands down!”
Thank you, Nikki, for all that you do!
View More All Stars