Head of Pokagon lending firm discusses work with Rotary

Published 8:00 am Friday, February 12, 2016

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

While created to serve the people of the tribe, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi’s Chi Ishobak is looking to improve the lives of not only citizens and families associated with the local Indian nation, but of those of everyone who calls Dowagiac home.

Sean Winters, the director of the nonprofit lending company, explained the operations of the Dowagiac financial institution and how it is working to enhance the greater community to members of the Dowagiac Rotary Club during the organization’s weekly meeting Thursday afternoon. Winters was invited to serve as the program for that day’s meeting by Joe Silvia, manager of Dowagiac’s Chemical Bank branch and a member of the Chi Ishobak Board of Directors.

Established in 2009, the organization serves as a community development financial institution (CDFI) for Pokagon Band members, providing applicants with capital for business startups as well as for personal loans for home purchases or credit building, Winters said.

“We offer lending services, but at the same time there’s some social work involved as well,” Winters said. “We have an opportunity to teach them [applicants] on more of a personal level to become more responsible, to become more accountable, to give them the skills to care for themselves and more importantly care for their families and to build the communities they are a part of.”

While charted by the Pokagon Tribal Council, Chi Ishobak is technically a separate entity though it works exclusively with Pokagon citizens, Winters said.

“We work in a very modern industry, but at the same time we are able to tie in some of our older, traditional ways to allow our citizens to succeed today,” the director said.

As of year-end 2015, the agency has four active commercial loans, and has dispersed more than $500 million to tribal entrepreneurs, creating 15 local jobs in the process, Winters said. The company also has 57 active consumer loans, dispersing a little under $575,000 to tribe members for automotive loans or for credit building processes. Another 13 citizens have received assistance from Chi Ishobak to help eliminate $90,000 worth of debt.

Through potential partnerships with other American Indian tribes in the area, Chi Ishobak is looking to further expand its services. Through improving and enriching the lives of Pokagon citizens, the financial company hopes it can help not only the tribe but its neighbors and the place it calls home.

“We want to affect Indian country, but at the same time, being good neighbors, we’re looking for ways to benefit our initial community,” Winters said.