First Nations Financial Literacy All Star #1: Cora Mae Haskell

First Nations Development Institute is proud to partner with Dr. Per Cap, aka Financial Education Consultant Shawn Spruce, 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 financial education.

Dr. Per Cap’s Financial Literacy 2018 All-Star Picks

Spring is here and it’s time to celebrate national Financial Literacy Month by recognizing a new team of outstanding individuals who are working hard to expand financial education efforts throughout Indian Country.  It’s a tradition that each week in April I 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 #1: Cora Mae Haskell, Asset Development Coordinator, Four Bands Community Fund 

If you’ve ever been stranded in South Dakota during a howling January blizzard only to snuggle later by a cozy campfire in July, you’ll agree with Cora Mae Haskell (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) when asked: What’s the best part and worst part of life in the Mount Rushmore State?

The weather!

Raised on 160 acres on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Cora Mae loves the four seasons, beautiful scenery and friendly people.  She also loves teaching those friendly people about their credit.  In rain, snow, or sunshine I might add.  One of four siblings, she grew up in an era when families only used cash, an upbringing that molded her into the caring, outgoing and prudent person she is today.

“It wasn’t easy, but our parents did well by us,” says the former academic administrator and teacher.  “They taught us patience and understanding.  Success isn’t something that happens overnight.”

With a master’s degree in education and curriculum and a bachelor’s degree in business education, Cora Mae is a perfect fit as the asset development coordinator at Four Bands Community Fund.  After serving as the dean of academics at the former Si Tanka/Huron University, she joined Four Bands in 2003 as a personal finance coach for workshops and business plan classes.

“It was my first foray into financial literacy and I really liked it,” Cora Mae explains. “I had people who really wanted to learn.  To see their interest while learning financial concepts was inspiring.  Moreover, I noticed a gap in knowledge between people of different generations that needed to be addressed.”

Click ahead 15 years and Cora Mae has now delivered business development and financial literacy workshops for hundreds of community members.  She also provides financial coaching to new homebuyers in partnership with Cheyenne River Housing Authority, and was instrumental in establishing an Individual Development Account program.  Along the way she’s won awards, such as 2008 Outstanding Entrepreneurship Educator by the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education.  She’s also had leadership roles at the national and local levels as co-chair for the Native Financial Education Coalition, in board positions with the Native CDFI Network and South Dakota Indian Business Alliance, and as a former board member for the Eagle Butte District 20-1 school system.

However, her calling is working in the community to improve people’s credit, which she views as the foundation for a family’s financial security.

“I’m really passionate about teaching credit-building,” she says.  “A lot of people don’t realize they have a credit score.  My job is to get them to a point where they can go to a traditional lender because most of our small business loans are to borrowers who can’t qualify for mainstream loans.  Savings, budgets, understanding ‘wants’ vs. ‘needs’ – they all factor into good credit.”

Even more impressive are the touching stories and hard data that highlight the success of Cora Mae’s pupils.  People like Aaron Runs After, a single parent, who used a Four Bands credit-builder loan to raise his credit score by a whopping 90 points.  And Jackie Dunn, who while raising grandchildren nearly doubled her credit score in only a few years.

“Without Four Bands I would still be in serious debt and not have a line of credit for a new vehicle or have credit cards in my name,” Dunn stated after working with Cora Mae to purchase a home.

If we could only bottle Cora Mae’s recipe for financial success, we’d have a dish sweeter than a bowl of blueberry wojapi!

But all work and tasty wojapi aside, family is still what’s most important to Cora Mae.  Happily married for 38 years, she and her late husband raised six children on the family farm where she grew up, a homestead always bustling with gatherings and activities.  Naturally, she loves summers in South Dakota and travels to motorcycle rallies and annual Fourth of July family reunion campouts near Pierre.  At home, she has two dogs and a cat and enjoys gardening, reading and solving crossword puzzles, which she says are a great way to relax after a long day.  She also makes time for her grandkids’ sporting events and is active in her church.

“It’s rare that I don’t get a call on weekends from friends and family,” Cora Mae adds.  “Often they have financial questions about credit or starting a business. There’s always a teachable moment.  I remind them that a person’s gotta be in it for the long haul, but it’s worth it.”

Like all great community leaders, Cora Mae Haskell’s actions speak louder than words. She leads by example, stands firm in her beliefs, and yes – she’s in it for the long haul, too.  Thank you Cora Mae, for all that you do!