Chi Ishobak Provides Financing and Capital for Pokagon Band Entrepreneurs

Chi Ishobak (pronounced Chee-ish-oh-bock) means “Big Cabbage” in Pokagon. The Certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) recently financed a Tribal entrepreneur Richard Sturgeon’s purchase of his own tractor-trailer to empower his autonomy and growth in the trucking industry. (chiishobak.org)

Pokagon Band’s Native CDFI promotes Tribal member self-sufficiency and self-determination. In total, since offering its first business loan in 2013, Chi Ishobak has deployed $1.7 million through 47 commercial loans to Tribal entrepreneurs and $5.2 million through 640 consumer loans.

More than a decade ago, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Tribal government created Chi Ishobak, a Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that aimed to provide Tribal members with affordable access to capital and credit. And now, even though Chi Ishobak is seeing financial impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re doing just that.

The efforts actually started 15 years ago, according to Chi Ishobak’s website, which notes that the Pokagon Tribal Council first formally approved the CDFI formation in 2005. The Tribe received a Native American CDFI Assistance (NACA) technical assistance and planning grant from the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund the following year, administered through the Pokagon Department of Housing. In September 2009, the Tribal Council passed a resolution to support the CDFI’s creation and appoint its first board of directors; ten days later, Chi Ishobak, Inc. was incorporated under the state of Michigan as a non-profit organization.

The goal of the Tribe in developing a CDFI was to promote the improvement of the financial capacity of all Tribal members by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence that they need to make informed judgments and effective decisions with respect to their current and future personal and household circumstances.

Now, the company offers a variety of financial products to citizens, including commercial loans ranging from $1,000 to more than $35,000 for small business startup or expansion; technical assistance programs to aspiring entrepreneurs and established businesses; personal loans for automobiles, emergency home improvements, credit building, or other personal expenses; financial wellness workshops and individual financial coaching, and individual development accounts designed to help participants save for the purchase of a designated asset.

According to an article in MiBiz, Chi Ishobak now has an active business loan portfolio of 20 business loans totaling $468,000, including a high-end tattoo studio, a spaghetti sauce maker, a resale store, a commercial flooring company, a yoga studio, lawn care, a trucker who owns his own tractor-trailer, food trucks, a commercial accountant, a hotel operator, and a virtual reality studio. The CDFI has also issued 376 loans totaling 2.8 million as of June 30, 2020.

In total, since offering its first business loan in 2013, Chi Ishobak has deployed $1.7 million through 47 commercial loans to Tribal entrepreneurs and $5.2 million through 640 consumer loans, MiBiz reports.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, the CDFI responded by providing borrowers a 90-day deferral on loan payments.

“We basically pressed pause on everybody’s debt,” Sean Winters, Chi Ishobak’s executive director, told MiBiz. “It was something to really show our clients we’re behind them 100 percent. We’re going to be with them through thick and thin and we’re going to work with them.”

“We understand that this is uncharted territory we’re in right now and we’re going to get through it together,” Winters continued. “That seems to be a common theme everywhere and more so for our community. Our financials have taken a little bit of a hit, but we know those will rebound because of the relationships we’ve created with our folks.”

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