Thursday, 25 July 2013

Fisher River and Financial Exclusion Research

By Gabrielle Héroux, 1st year MDP student

Day 4 of the trip to Fisher River, the other site for our research project on Indigenous Financial Exclusion.  It’s the last official week of my field placement.  It’s been a good week.  Got off to a fairly inauspicious start, though, when Stella, her family, and I got completely lost in the backroads of rural Manitoba.  How’s that for a terrible way to die.  Word to the wise: if you’re going to Fisher River, do not rely on Google Maps for directions.  Anyways, got back on the right path with the help of a kind stranger in a minivan.  Got here midday-ish on Monday, headed straight to the band office to meet up with Dion McKay, the band councilor who’s been our main contact in FRCN.  We hashed out the finer details of our stay here, discussed accommodations, work space, and our student assistant.  For the latter, we were set up with Taylor, a young woman who is about to start her third year at the University of Winnipeg, and is participating in FRCN’s youth summer employment program.

And not to put too fine a point on it, or anything, but she has been amazing.  There’s no way we could have accomplished even half as much as we have without her.  She’s organized, she’s motivated, she’s been calling everyone she knows and recruiting people like gangbusters.

Recruitment, predictably, has been the most difficult part of the week.  There are the obstacles of not knowing many people here, of our very short time frame, and of there not really being one central place to find a bunch of people at once.  But it’s also a busy week for the community, for good and not-so-good reasons.  For one, they’re having Treaty Days next week, and lots of people are involved with that, preparing food stands and organizing events.

Dion also let us know that the band office’s long-time receptionist passed away on the Saturday before we got here.  So, naturally, a lot of focus and energy is on that.  It’s been weighing heavily on everyone’s hearts and minds.  Her funeral is today in Fairford, where she was born.  So the band office is closed, and a good number of community members are out there.

The only ATM in Fisher River Cree Nation
We have nevertheless gotten a good deal of research done.  As in Winnipeg, people have been very interested in our topic, and eager to share their experiences.  Some notable trends have emerged so far, different from some of what we saw in the city.  For instance, I don’t think I’ve surveyed anyone yet who has used a payday lender or pawnshop, and if they’ve used fringe financial institutions at all, it’s been the local store.  Which makes sense – people use what’s available and convenient.  People are also highly mobile here, traveling back and forth to Winnipeg and other nearby communities, doing their banking at banks or credit unions there.  Some respondents have expressed the wish to have a bank here, but it doesn’t seem to be a gigantic obstacle.  The community has adapted.

Diane Roussin, of Ma Mawi, made an interesting point at an Advisory Committee meeting earlier in the summer.  She said that people’s dreams and expectations around banking are shaped by their experiences.  They may not want more than what has been available to them, not because their current situation is the most advantageous, simply because we know what we know.  It can be difficult to want to something that’s essentially always been outside your reality.  How do you know your Access to Basic Banking Services (ABBS) rights aren’t being adequately upheld, if you don’t know you have those rights?  Which is not inconceivable.  Many people don’t know about ABBS.  For that matter, I’ve worked with tellers who don’t know about ABBS.

Anyways, it’s an important point that makes a lot of sense, and might mean something as yet undetermined for our results.  Not sure what kind of impact that will have on our Ideal Bank participatory method, or on people’s responses to the survey questions about how satisfied they are and what, if anything, they would change about their financial services.  That’s a difficult thing to control for.

But we’ll forge ahead anyways.  I have one day left in FRCN, and I’m hoping to get some financial life histories and a focus group done tomorrow.  Then it’s back to Winnipeg, and then back home.  I can hardly believe this placement is almost done.  That’ll take some processing time.  I know this project isn’t done, not even close.  So the summer may be coming to an end.  But we still have work to do!

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