ORONO, Maine — In the 10 years since it was established, tribal owned and operated Four Directions Development Corp. has helped hundreds of Wabanaki tribal members buy or improve homes, start small businesses and purchase energy efficient appliances.
These and other achievements were celebrated Thursday evening during the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration at the University of Maine’s Buchanan Alumni House.
The event drew about 150 people, including representatives of Maine’s Wabanaki tribes — Penobscots, Passamaquoddies, Maliseets and Micmacs — as well as government, banking and religious leaders and others who have supported Maine’s American Indian people.
Among the touches that lent the event a native flavor were opening remarks and prayers by Penobscot Elder Butch Phillips and Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves, a drum performance by Indian Island’s Burnuwurbskek Singers and displays of native basketry, drums and other traditional crafts.
When it became certified as a Native Community Development Finance Institution in 2002, Four Directions was the seventh native operation of its kind. Today, there are more than 70 such institutions. Its mission is to improve the social and economic conditions of the Maine’s tribal people through education and investment in affordable housing, tribal business ventures and native entrepreneurship.
On Thursday, it was apparent the nonprofit had much to celebrate.
In her anniversary remarks, Executive Director Susan Hammond said Four Directions to date has made 145 housing loans — totaling $5.8 million — to Wabanaki tribal members, as well as $1.4 million in business loans to 35 native entrepreneurs.
In addition, the organization has provided financial literacy training to hundreds of people, supported several tribal housing projects and business enterprises and more, recently has started branching out into the areas of cultural tourism, agriculture and artisan training.
Among its latest initiatives are plans to develop the Wabanaki Cultural Tourism Center, described as a world class training center aimed at helping Maine tribes create tourism and hospitality infrastructures within their communities. Also in the works is the Wabanaki Marketplace, which will market native-made crafts and products not only nationally but worldwide.
Delivering the keynote address was Sherry Salway Black, director of the Partnership for Tribal Governance at the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability.
A member of the Oglala Lakota Nation in Pine Ridge, S.D., Salway Black was involved in the formation of First Nations Oweesta Corp. — the first Native Community Development Finance Institution established in Indian Country.
In her address, Salway Black discussed how nonprofits such as Four Directions are helping American Indian tribes regain control over their own destinies by providing access to capital, which in turn helps them develop their own resources and assets.
“These types of institutions, like Four Directions Development Corp., can do that with the kinds of services that they offer to the community,” she said before the celebration.
While in Maine, she met with several Maine tribal leaders to share some of the policy work being done at the national level. Next week, she and other native leaders will attend the fourth White House Tribal Nations Conference held since President Barack Obama took office.
Also during Thursday’s celebration, Four Directions recognized some of those who have contributed to its success. The honorees were Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises Inc.; the Maine Council of Churches; and John Moore, Bangor Savings Bank senior vice president of community development banking and a member of the Four Directions board.
For information about Four Directions Development Corp., visit www.fourdirectionsmaine.org.