Why Native Youth Should Consider Careers in Finance
NAFOA Leadership Summit alumnus interviews two Native women about how their career journeys in Finance helped them become better advocates for Indian Country.
By Ariel Farinango (Native Inca), 2019 NAFOA Leadership Summit Alumnus
For many Indigenous people, there is a strong desire to advocate for our Native Nations and communities. Increasingly, Native people have been choosing a career in Finance to help advance inequity issues among their communities. Having Natives in banking and financial institutions gives Indigenous communities a voice as we strive to strengthen economic development and our sovereignty.
“Having knowledge about one’s personal finance is empowering and allows us to help others. Knowledge about finance for Indigenous communities empowers us and allows communities to pursue the values we hold dear.”
Elke Chenevey is a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and a Partner at FS Advisors. Like much Native youth and aspiring professionals, she started her college career at Dartmouth College with the intention of pursuing Native American law. Chenevey says she knew she wanted to be a champion for her people, and her desire to serve the broader Indigenous community led to an internship with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF)in Washington, D.C.
As an intern, Chenevey soon realized a major problem and common challenge typical for non-profit organizations. In order to drive change and pursue large projects, her organization needed access to capital. Her internship experience with NARF also highlighted the large disparities between tribal communities’ needs and their access to resources. She realized that “finance is foundational to community development and tribal sovereignty, similar to fiscal policy.” Recognizing the lack of Native professionals in the financial industry motivated her to take action. “My desire to build a solid financial framework resulted in me pursuing an MBA at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business.”
Chenevey joined Merrill Lynch after graduating from Columbia and served in numerous leadership positions prior to taking her financial expertise back to Indian Country. Having spent years in the financial industry, Chenevey describes finance as a “tool for interconnectedness.” She states that “having knowledge about one’s personal finance is empowering and allows us to help others. Knowledge about finance for Indigenous communities empowers us and allows communities to pursue the values we hold dear.”
Veronica Lane is a member of the Navajo Nation and currently serves as an Assistant Vice President and Business Development Officer at the Native American Bank, N.A. Lane says she always knew she wanted to make an impact and work in Indian Country, but she was unsure of what career path to pursue upon starting her undergraduate studies. As a first-generation student, she felt the pressures of navigating through the post-secondary education system and realized the importance of planning for life after college. “It wasn’t until my second semester that I enrolled in an Intro to Business course at Fort Lewis College, that I realized this was a field that perfectly matched my skill set of being number-oriented and analytical.”
“My current role as a Business Development Officer is meaningful because I get to help commercial borrowers from across Indian Country realize their dreams of bringing economic development to their communities, fully utilizing my specialized knowledge specific to financing projects in Indian Country.”
During one of her summer breaks from college, Lane applied for an internship with the Investments Section for the Navajo Nation. This opportunity allowed her to work alongside the controller of the Navajo Nation, which she says “had a tremendous impact on my future career goals and solidified my desire to work for my people.”
The controller realized her strong work ethic and recommended she apply to RVK, an investment consulting firm based out of Portland, Oregon. She says this hands-on role of analyzing investment performance data and investment consulting was a great learning experience. “It made me curious about the influence that Finance had on larger decision-making in Indian Country and what Tribal Nations were doing in regards to their investment planning and management.”
Lane says she wanted to expand her financial skillset, so she worked in numerous finance-related positions ranging from a small wealth management start-up to a Fortune-500 company. Lane’s passion for learning did not stop there. “I always knew I wanted to pursue an MBA, so I applied to the University of Denver’s MBA program and graduated with a concentration in Finance.” Around the same time, she attended a conference for her MBA scholarship where she met another Native professional. She says this personal connection eventually opened the door to re-starting her career in Indian Country via the banking industry.
Now at the Native American Bank, Lane has been able to fulfill her dream to create an impact in Indian Country. With pride, she says “my current role as a Business Development Officer is meaningful because I get to help commercial borrowers from across Indian Country realize their dreams of bringing economic development to their communities, fully utilizing my specialized knowledge specific to financing projects in Indian Country.”
Elke and Veronica’s stories are testaments of the impact careers in banking and financial institutions can have on our Indigenous communities. The career pathways of these two dedicated Native women demonstrate how money drives change and large decision-making. If we want to help our water protectors, preserve our culture and history, or defend Indian Country, we need more youth and aspiring professionals to consider careers in Finance. Perhaps with more Indigenous voices in finance and banking, we can begin to build a decolonized framework from within these systems. By equipping ourselves with a solid financial background, we can empower others and have a long-lasting impact on our people and our communities.