HCN Department of Education launches the new Financial Literacy Course

By Tim Wohlers

The Ho-Chunk Nation’s legislature recently revised the ordinance regarding per-capita distribution.  Due to that revision, the ordinance now includes a requirement for tribal members to partake in an online financial-literacy course before being able to collect their trust fund money. 
To discuss the changes, the Department of Education held a launch of the literacy course in the tribal office building on October 13.  Along with many others, representatives from the department helped create the course so that it will be of help to the Nation’s youth. 
“Any kind of education is really beneficial for our young people,” said Michelle Cloud, Division Manager of Culture and Community Education.  “What they’re going to learn within this content is going to serve them for the rest of their lives.” 
With the help of Financial Fitness Group, a team of educators who specialize in financial literacy, the Nation devised the program in hopes of teaching its tribal members how to become better consumers. 
“We want our students to be prepared as they go out into the world,” said Executive Director Nehomah Thundercloud.  “We want to make sure that they’re knowledgeable.” 
Some members of the tribe indicated that they support the new ordinance.  In an introductory video for the literacy course, traditional chief Clayton Winneshiek voiced his own support. 
“Learning to manage your money successfully is crucial in today’s world,” Winneshiek said.  “This financial literacy course will cover a variety of financial concepts that are important.” 
The event featured several Ho-Chunk speakers, including Master of Ceremonies Lance Long. 
“Every now and then,” Long said, “the Nation asks me to come and talk for them.” 
Long welcomed the audience before handing the mic over to those directly involved with the program.  One of these people was Joe Saari, Founder and Chairman of the Financial Fitness Group.  During his address, Saari stressed the importance of good money management.   
“Money is a tool that we use on this planet,” Saari said.  “It won’t make you happy.  But managing it poorly will make you unhappy.” 
Several employees of the Education Department are working to improve financial literacy among the tribe. 
“Knowledge is power,” said Marcus Lewis, Manager of the Higher Ed Division.  “And from that knowledge comes the ability to protect yourself.” 
After the opening remarks, students were given a chance to test out the website and even begin the online course.  During this session, the soon-to-be graduates expressed their appreciation of the wonderful opportunity that the Nation has provided. 
“I am thankful that we get this class,” said high-school senior Lacey Hopinka, “because I do not know a lot about money.” 
Some parents are supporting the course, hopeful that it will be helpful to their children in making financial decisions. 
“I think it’s a really good idea that this is offered to them,” said tribal member Elaina Ward, “so that they are able to spend their money wisely and invest it.” 
Students have until July 31 to complete the course, which consists of 14 modules that build off one another. 
These topics include credit, taxes, predatory lending, housing, vehicle acquisition, managing your money at a bank or credit union, budgeting, lifestyle planning/setting financial goals, investments, insurance/risk management, retirement, choosing a financial advisor/planner, education and employment, and consumer protection against fraud. 
“There’s 14 tutorials,” Cloud said.  “The thought behind those 14 [tutorials] is kind of based on what they hope you will learn.” 
A nonprofit agency committed to educating students about financial literacy, Make A Difference Wisconsin, provided the curriculum for the course and its participants. 
“We’re in a three-year process with our vendors,” Thundercloud said.  “So this is a really good step.” 
The founder of the Financial Fitness Group explained the reason behind choosing an online format for the course, instead of opting for the traditional classroom setting. 
“They can do all of the training when and where they want,” Saari said.  “Those modules can be accessed from your smartphone, tablet, or your computer.” 
So accessing the course proves easy.  But its development did not. 
“A lot of hard work goes into developing this thing,” Lewis said.  “This is the outgrowth of some prayers that were said a long time ago.” 
Thanks to the helping hands lent by Financial Fitness Group and Make A Difference Wisconsin, those prayers have now been answered.  But the journey does not end here.  The Nation hopes to keep the dream alive for the sake of future generations. 
“The end goal is to make sure that our students make informed decisions with their money,” Cloud said.  “There’s been mishandling of those funds by our young people.  We want to move past that.”