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Money Moccasins program empowers Indigenous students with financial literacy skills

Over the past year, 210 members of Treaty 6 and 7 Nations have been gathering in-person and online for Momentum’s Money Moccasins program.

The goal has been to provide a safe and non-judgemental Indigenous-led space, where individuals looking to become more financially literate can gather, discuss, and learn.

At a graduation get-together held by Momentum on Jan. 11, participants told their stories about how they wished they had been taught the skills earlier in life.

“I’m 35, and I wish I had known about financial literacy back in my 20s. I would have made significantly different choices,” said Stephanie Gouda, one of the program graduates.

Gouda, who moved to Calgary from Edmonton to attend the University of Calgary, ended up with student loans and car debt.

Through the program, taught by Momentum’s Indigenous financial empowerment facilitator Theodora Warrior Healy, she was able to get a better grasp on how to pay down principal and how interest works against her debt load.

“When Theodora showed you’re actually paying more in interest and principal, I was like, I had no idea what those were, so she gives you those tools to empower yourself.”

Weekly workshops on a variety of money topics

Warrior Healy runs workshops every Wednesday evening at Momentum’s northeast Calgary headquarters, on a variety of different money management topics. Jan. 18’s topic is budgeting; Jan. 25 is banking; and Feb. 1 is credit.

Gouda said that the banking class was helpful to her and to other students to navigate Canada’s banking system as Indigenous people.

“Some banks are very racist to Indigenous folk, and if other Indigenous folk access this specific program, they can then learn the terminologies that are used in banks.”

“It’s all about empowerment.”

Participants can sign up for as many workshops as they like. Completion of the five different categories on assets, budgeting, banking, credit, and consumerism grants a participant a certificate of achievement, which then can be used to bolster credit ratings on a credit report.

It also helps participants to learn how to use QUBER, Momentum’s app-based savings tool that has cash rewards for savings.

“It was a first of its kind for Indigenous people and communities,” Warrior Healy said.

Culturally specific teaching for Indigenous-only participants

She said that part of the program is engaging participants through a shared cultural tradition that Indigenous people in Alberta have.

“One of my key points in finance teaching is that water is life, and money is life, and we have to live in these worlds,” Warrior Healy said.

“Water is a great visual, especially for indigenous people—for everybody, actually. But spiritually, that is our most sacred spirit next to the sun, it’s a giver and a sustainer of life.

“So we need to learn how to manage that, knowing drip by drip if we have the proper container, then we are able to gather that and begin collecting and saving.”

Warrior Healy said that she was proud to be teaching the classes, having gone through the program herself before.

“I’m a bit of a Cinderella story, you know. I was always in a crisis mode, survival mode, and never really having that ground to stand on to sustain and eventually thrive,” she said.

“Having gone through the program before, and then now facilitating it and making it my own and really understanding it, I’ve reached this place where it’s for me to go back and bring that help and that knowledge to my people.”

She said that while some people can be skeptical about financial classes being dry and boring, each class is a proudly Indigenous-only space that offers non-judgemental learning.

Reconciliation through programming for Momentum

The program is in part funded by Calgary Learns, and by the Government of Alberta.

Lisa L’Hirondelle, the Indigenous education liaison for Calgary Learns, said that their organization provided a grant for $75,000 towards the program.

“At Calgary Learns there has been intentionality about engaging with the Indigenous community, and meeting the needs of Indigenous learners, learning at a foundational level. And Money Moccasins meets that need,” she said.

“It’s a huge gap in services for foundational learners within Calgary.”

Momentum’s Executive Director Jeff Loomis said that the program came out of a recognition they needed to do more and be better about serving its Indigenous learners. The program, he said, is one of a number that the organization does towards meaningful reconciliation.

“We really feel like we were entrusted by elders in our community and indigenous community members to offer our programs to indigenous community members,” he said.

“I think we’re really recognizing that we can have more of an impact when we offer programs that are offered by or delivered by indigenous staff to indigenous participants.”