Saskatchewan Indigenous communities get support with financial literacy

For over 30 years, Prince Albert Literacy Network (PALN) has run free literacy programming for its small community of 40,000 in Saskatchewan. The organization frequently changes up its programming based on the needs of the community, of which nearly 50 per cent are Indigenous.

When PALN board and staff were seeking a new financial literacy program for their learners, they were thrilled when they stumbled upon Money Matters for Indigenous Peoples.

“I was very pleased with how the program offered modules on financial literacy fundamentals that could apply to all types of people, but also reflected Indigenous People through the use of Indigenous names in the activities,” said PALN board member Cathy Dickson. “Because our city has such a high Indigenous population, we felt this program would be the perfect fit. It’s completely customizable and we can adjust it to the needs of our learners.”

Three years and more than 50 workshops later, Dickson said the program has been taken up not just by Indigenous People but also many newcomers to the area. PALN volunteer presenters often visit various community organizations throughout the region to deliver the workshops, since their office has minimal space. Dickson said partnering with local organizations such as libraries and schools allows them to reach more people. For the past year, however, they’ve been conducting online workshops due to the pandemic.

Dickson said the feedback has been really good for both the online and in-person workshops, and learners often become more comfortable speaking up as the workshop progresses. Oftentimes she can see the improvement in their confidence levels as well.

“It’s really empowering when someone finally sees that they have power over their money and they can make it work,” she said. “In many First Nations communities, they’ve never really spoken about savings and oftentimes they’ll spend any leftover money at the end of each month because they don’t realize a small amount of money can be saved. A few lightbulbs have gone off when people realize that you don’t have to be rich to save – any little bit of money can be put aside and ultimately turn into significant savings for the future.”

According to Prosper Canada, alternative financial services such as cheque cashers and payday lenders can seem more welcoming and easily accessible in Northern and other Indigenous communities where there are no mainstream financial institutions. Because of this, Indigenous populations are at higher risk of debt and paying astronomical interest rates.

“A lot of our learners don’t really know how payday loans work and that if they use them, they can actually dig themselves into even more despair,” said Dickson. “The workbook on borrowing covers topics such as payday lenders, which is really relevant to this community. We’re able to educate on how payday lenders work and empower people to rise up and make a more informed decision about using them.”

Money Matters for Indigenous People is made up of four workbooks – Budgeting and Spending Plans, Banking Basics, Credit and Borrowing, and Ways to Save – all of which include information and design elements to reflect the realities of Indigenous communities in Canada. Organizations can choose to run a workshop on one workbook topic, or all four, depending on the needs of their community. There is also the option to invite TD Bank volunteers to facilitate the program, which can help build trust amongst Indigenous communities. TD Bank is the founding sponsor of Money Matters.

According to the Canadian Financial Capability Survey, 4.2 per cent of Indigenous respondents with low net worth indicated that they did not have a bank account – almost double the rate of 2.2 per cent for low net worth Canadians. Other studies estimate the rate of unbanked individuals in Indigenous communities to be as high as 15 per cent.

“Improving financial literacy is important for anybody, not just First Nations, but traditionally in our community there has been a cycle of poverty due to the history of colonization and assimilation,” said Dickson. “We hope that by running more Money Matters workshops, we can provide vital information and tools to our First Nations People and our community as a whole.  They now have the power and the knowledge to make changes.”