Redefining Finance in Indian Country: Celina Phair’s Vision for Economic Resilience

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By: McKenna Green, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior

Celina (left) speaking on a panel at the 2023 Fall Finance & Tribal Economies Conference

Celina Phair (Lummi Nation) is the 2nd Vice President of NAFOA and was elected to the position during the 40th Annual Conference in 2022. She has over ten years of experience in tribal finance and economic development. Phair has a B.A. in accounting and economics from Western Washington University, served as the controller of the Lummi Commercial Company, and has been an economic development business analyst,  seated council member, and treasurer of the Lummi Nation. 

Phair’s experience from involvement in Indian Country was, as she describes, “a masterclass on working with federal partners.” Phair was on the board of Trustees for Northwest Indian College for six years, was a part of the Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium for over three years, participated in the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Self-Governance Advisory Committee (SGAC), and The Indian Health Service (IHS) Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee (TSGAC). Currently, Phair is also on the board for the Potlatch Fund, Bellingham Technical College Foundation, and the Lummi scholarship board for the Lummi Nation. From her experience, she learned how proper resource management was crucial to tribes.

For her, reframing money in Indian Country is important. She explains, “money should be treated and taken care of as any other resource is.” Strategic plans look at all available resources and should always consider money as one of those resources. To Phair, “it is a transferable resource,” and should be well managed. Especially in the face of recent world events, a pandemic, and natural disasters, financial security for tribes is important but having months of expenses saved can be difficult to achieve. 

Phair recalls being an emerging Native finance professional and experiencing the lack of mentorship opportunities firsthand in Indian Country. Native tribal finance mentors are important because they offer support, knowledge, networking, and skill development that help guide emerging finance professionals. While she lacked a mentor, Phair, “wants to make a pathway for tribal accountants to be developed and mentored.” NAFOA is the only organization providing professional development and networking opportunities specific to tribal finance for emerging and veteran finance professionals. Phair is incredibly passionate about NAFOA’s mission of growing tribal economies and strengthening tribal finance and stresses its importance in Indian Country. As a newly seated board member, Phair notes it is inspiring to see a board of all women, and being on NAFOA’s board is an honor, “I am inspired by the other board members, I still can’t believe I get to serve with them.” 

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