Native American Heritage Month Spotlight: Theresa Hatathlie, Inclusiv LEAD2030 Fellow

Native American Heritage Month Spotlight: Theresa Hatathlie, Inclusiv LEAD2030 Fellow

Please tell us about yourself.

In my Navajo tradition, every person has four clans.  I am Bįįh Bitoodnii (Deer Springs, my mother’s first clan) and born for Áshįįhí (Salt, my father’s first clan), Tábąąhí (Edgewater) is my maternal grandfather’s clan and Tsé Deeshgizhnii (Rock Gap) is my paternal grandfather’s clan. I was raised in Tsékǫ’ Hasání (Coalmine Mesa, Arizona). My parents are Jack and Bessie Hatathlie, and I was raised with ten siblings in a home with no running water or electricity. Our closest neighbors were three miles away.  

My parents’ priority was to raise us to speak Diné (our native language) along with giving us the skills to maintain livestock and grow our own foods. I was taught to be knowledgeable in the wealth of cultural teachings that instilled beauty, calm, and a holistic path. I have also been taught to be industrious: tackling job opportunities as a cultural consultant, handcrafting beautiful Navajo rugs and jewelry, and targeting a global market to provide a good living wage for my family. 

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Northern Arizona University with a Certificate in Human Resources.  I’ve developed a practical understanding of leadership at home and in the community at the tribal, state, and federal government levels. I’ve honed skills in tailoring communications to various audiences.  Effective communication is the foundation to making a difference, and listening to understand is a trait few attain. My late parents’ teachings, the integration of culture and education, and my collective life experiences have prepared me for my current professional role as Arizona State Senator of Legislative District 7. 

What are you currently working on as a LEAD2030 Fellow with Inclusiv? What interested you in this opportunity?

As a Women’s Democracy Lab LEAD2030 Fellow, I am researching and working on strategies to increase financial understanding and building personal wealth within our indigenous communities.  In this endeavor, I hope to work with leaders to start a credit union on the Navajo Nation. It's important to understand finance and learn sound budgeting practices to be an informed consumer in my community. Teaching these disciplines to people in my community will provide them with a sense of stability and the confidence to be independent.   

What do you think are some concerns and/or barriers to financial access on tribal lands?

The Navajo Nation is 27,000 square miles covering parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. There are only five Wells Fargo branches across Navajo Nation, and one credit union situated near the border of Arizona and New Mexico. One of the main barriers to financial access on tribal lands is the lack of transportation infrastructure to access the more remote areas of the community. Another barrier is a lack of financial education from the institutions in the community. These situations certainly need to be reassessed to open up opportunities for the community. 

What else would you like to shine a light on regarding indigenous communities?

Over the recent years, there has been a lack of trust between the community and Wells Fargo which has resulted in some people closing their accounts and either taking their business to other financial institutions or putting their monies back into an old system of using trading post strategies to purchase food and other supplies. 

This trading post system is detrimental when someone has an opportunity to travel to areas where prices are lower, but their monies are tied up in trading post credits.  How do we provide resources to our communities when we don't have accessible financial institutions and knowledge within reach? Credit unions provide benefits that banks don't offer, and I believe that they will instill trust in their members. 

Are there any resources that you would recommend if someone would like to learn more about Native communities?  

I would recommend people visit the website of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona was established in 1952 to provide a united voice for the 22 tribal nations located in the State of Arizona in order to address common issues and concerns. 

Native American Heritage Month Webinar & Native CU Network

Join us on Wednesday, November 16, 2022 (3 pm ET) as Inclusiv & CUNA host a joint webinar on how credit unions can better serve Native/Indigenous communities.  

To register, visit: 

If interested in joining a Native Credit Union Network, please email Monica Copeland, MDI Network Director. 

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