FLAGSTAFF-In celebration of the 13 women who reached their next plateau of success by completing the Wi$e Up Financial Literacy Course, family and friends as well as Department of Labor Women's Bureau (DOLWB) administrators gathered Oct. 15 at the Coconino County Administration Building.
"This is a segment of 'empowering' Native American women!" Wi$e Up instructor Holly Figueroa (Hopi) said. "Being able to give these women the tools and the confidence they need to be financially savvy is awesome! These women will be able to make knowledgeable financial decisions that affect not only themselves, but their families or their future families. For example, living and working in Flagstaff, saving for college, buying a car or truck or even buying a home. Financial literacy is an important part of being able to balance a Native American life and an urban life or life in general."
"Having the support of our community leaders has been key in our efforts. It is great to report positive activity that Native Americans are participating in in Flagstaff.
It is my hope that this segment will spark the interest of more Native American
women in Flagstaff and around the state of Arizona to participate in upcoming
Wi$e Up sessions. Our Flagstaff Native women participants are living testament of what Wi$e Up is about," Figueroa said.
This second series of the Wi$e Up Financial Literacy Program was held through September and based upon a financial literacy curriculum developed by the DOLWB including eight separate areas of focus.
Figueroa took this lengthy, comprehensive handbook and contoured it to fit her participants' needs. Each worksheet is adorned with photos of Native women and various images representing the lifeways of her Native students.
"I tweaked it and put a Native spin on it. All the material was presented with a Native American theme, [for example] with the picture of Hopi Villages, to help them become more engaged. As fellow Native American women, we were all there as a group learning and sharing our lives. The discussions were informal, so I think this created more meaningful relationships. A lot of times the classes got really personal and we shared a lot of stories, which, I think, is a lot of times is the best way to learn." Figueroa said.
Together the women shared their similarities and differences and designed a financial plan.
"Many times we as Native women have to balance a traditional lifestyle with a city life. So, we talked about how to budget for ceremonies through the year," said Figueroa. "During our budgeting activities I'd say, 'when our people used to budget without the use of money, what did they do? How did they budget corn? How many people did they need to feed?'"
"'And so, if you are planning a ceremony or going to a powwow, what items or supplies need to be purchased or will there be entry fees?' Everything is geared towards women and what we as Native women go through," Figueroa explained.
One of Figueroa's worksheets includes a Circle of Life exercise in which the seasons of the year are placed around a spiral and sun. The text reads: "List what your ancestors (elders) would harvest throughout the year. [In the winter to early spring, Northwest tribes harvested venison such as deer and elk. They stopped in the early spring, when the young animals were born, to protect the survival of the herd.]
Did your people preserve/save any resources to be used year round? How did they budget throughout the year? Why? What types of goods did they trade? Were goods specifically put aside for the purpose of trading?"
In addition to the workbook topics including: money basics, credit, savings, risk management, insurance and achieving financial security, Figueroa invited individuals from throughout the financial community to discuss their areas of expertise.
"So, you're getting the benefit of professionals coming in and speaking to you for free," Figueroa said.
Another benefit of the Financial Literacy for Native American Women Wi$e Up class is its location at the Sunnyside Neighborhood One Stop on Izabel Street in Flagstaff where children have a place to play and refreshments are provided.
To accommodate even more women in the future, Figueroa is taking her class to tribal communities across the region.
"We want to get it out there to as many tribal nations as possible," she said.
Figueroa hopes to share her program in early 2008 with the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Yavapai Apache, Phoenix Indian Center and more.
One of several successes
Figueroa explained that each participant is a success story. One in particular is Kathleah Sonny (Diné) who graduated from the first session of Wi$e Up and was invited to attend the recent graduation ceremony. After completing the 2006 Wi$e Up course, Sonny decided to start her own jewelry business.
"[This course] gave me the information that I needed to be able to go out and start by teaching me how to organize time, about financial spending and where my money was going. Money management and realizing how all my expenses added up was most important," Sonny said. "Then I knew, okay, this is what I have to save and, maybe, to someday invest."
Sonny now supports herself fully through her own business working at the Native Americans for Community Action Overlook Program at the Oak Creek Vista. She said that through Wi$e Up, she learned about the multitude of resources available.
"I learned about asking questions, asking for help. Right now it's learning and watching. Without this program I wouldn't have had the knowledge and tools to know how to organize my money and my time. It feels really good. Native American women are really strong, we just need encouragement to come out, not just to stay at home, but to be businesswomen. The main thing is that it's coming from other Native American women-that it's gonna be up to you to do it-to go to the classes, to do what it takes to be successful."
Figueroa agreed. "Women are powerful in that we are the people that get tasked with taking care of the children, our brothers and sisters; we take care of our mothers, fathers and our aunts and uncles as they get to the end of their lives. We also are now the ones who are single moms, businesswomen and the handy-women. We have to take care of ourselves and our families. It is up to us as women to educate ourselves so that we can make the best decisions possible and also to help raise strong Native American communities," she said.
"My father has always been my inspiration. I lost him a year ago this month. He always taught me to take the initiative! It is that initiative that he taught me about that drives me. He lived his later years at Hopi and he always talked with everyone. He never turned anyone away particularly non-Natives. He was that 'bridge.' He welcomed people and took the time to talk with them and share some of Hopi to take back home with them wherever that may have been. It is that legacy that I would like to carry on by being a 'bridge' for my fellow Native American women and Natives as a whole," Figueroa concluded.
The recent Wi$e Up graduates include: Carla Chiquito, Irene Tsosie, Vanita Apodaca, Evelyn Yazzie, Roanna Jenkins, Gwen Cody, Deborah Patrick, Raylene Hood, Amber Patrick, Mary Lou Natoni, Helena Botone, Sadie Oxtoby and Faye Owens.
The DOLWB Wi$e Up program is available online at http://wiseupwomen.tamu.edu/index.php.
Figueroa plans to offer the next session of Flagstaff Wi$e Up courses in early 2008. For more information about the local programs, call (928) 522-7900 or toll free (877) 358-6714.
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