Native Americans receive financial education

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Nearly half of South Dakota’s Native American population lives in poverty, and one local organization is trying to change that.

Supported in part by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Black Hills Community Loan Fund offers loan products and financial education classes to the Native American population. They provide credit loans, home improvement loans, home purchase loans and assist clients with down payments and closing costs.

Two years ago, the organization approved two loans, and in 2016 that number rose to 14 loans. Executive Director Onna Lebeau said BHCLF has yet to have any problems.

"The nice thing about our program right now is that we don't have any defaults," Lebeau said.

All of the organization’s clients come from Native American backgrounds. And in previous generations, finances were not a topic that Native Americans discussed, often seen as taboo or impolite. But Lebeau is trying to change that.

"You'll see people who are probably in my generation that will say that they didn't typically hear a lot about how their parents managed money,” she said. “They knew that bills got paid but didn't know how."

For a client to receive a loan, they must have a proven work history of at least 12 consecutive months or more. All loans also consist of an application fee and a 1 percent closing cost fee. And the last requirement, is that all recipients must take Lebeau’s financial education classes.

Kookie Ramos started taking Lebeau’s classes one year ago. He said he never imagined he’d be able to get a loan.

 “I got long hair, the way I look, and I always paid cash,” Ramos said. “I never had no credit. And we sat at this table and we studied. And I started listening and paying attention."

Ramos first received a $500 holiday loan. He then received a loan for a car and bathroom remodel. Now, he hopes to buy a house.

The organization now offers microloans for small businesses. They hope to deploy their first loan by next fall.

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