Native American Heritage Month

Efforts to honor the contributions Native Americans made to the growth of the United States began in the early 1900s. Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, worked with the Boys Scouts of America to create a day honoring the “First Americans.” In 1915, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state to state petitioning for a day to honor Indians. He received approval from 24 states, and several states began to celebrate American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”

In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, as it’s now known, SDC seeks to honor and highlight the achievements of Native Americans in our industry and to promote awareness and education. According to the AICPA, American Indian and Alaska Native students represent the smallest percentage of accounting graduates, with 0.15% leaving school with a bachelor’s degree and only 0.3% leaving school with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Corrine Wilson, CPA, and a principal at the accounting firm REDW LLC, has been a pioneer in financial services for Native American women. Wilson is a member of the Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of Nevada. She has worked in tribal legal services, public accounting, and for a Fortune 500 company. Wilson launched her career in finance when she was a single mother looking for reliable work.

“I was a poor Indian girl,” Wilson says. She discovered that the Bureau of Indian Affairs offered a program that helped single mothers with daycare and other expenses. Wilson, who was good at math and science, enrolled in college and studied accounting. Her first accounting job was with Nevada Indian Legal Services. She became a tribal court advocate, representing people in tribal courts and assisting attorneys. Exposure to the tribal legal world “gave me a great background to go back to accounting in tribal government,” Wilson says.

Wilson later worked with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, helping to open one of the first 638 clinics in the country by implementing the Tribe’s own accounting and medical records systems as they separated the clinic’s operations from Indian Health Services. The term “638” stands for PL 93-638 conversions under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which enables tribal health facilities to be under tribal control. Wilson later worked for Egghart & Associates, LLC, a Nevada-based CPA firm with a tribal focus, where she served as a partner. Today, she is a principal at REDW LLC, an accounting firm that specializes in services to Native American Tribes and tribal enterprises.

Looking back on her career, Wilson says, “There were times when I could clearly tell that, because of my race or being female, I would get disparaging comments, but I’ve always been very thick-skinned.”

Wilson emphasizes passing on her knowledge to others to serve tribes. “Tribal people have a vested interest in seeing that their tribal governments and accounting systems work well,” she says. “There are a lot of CFOs and Controllers who come and go in Indian Country, so we need more Native people performing those functions – people who will last in those positions.”

Wilson’s company partners with the American Indian Graduate Center to fund a scholarship program for Native American students interested in studying accounting. Other organizations offering scholarships include:

  • The American Indian Graduate Center collaborates with Tribes, the federal government, and other organizations to offer scholarships for American Indian and Alaska Native students pursuing higher education.
  • The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, an organization that assists American Indian businesses with supply chain and technical issues, offers training opportunities and scholarships for business students.
  • INROADS, an organization with the mission to increase diversity in corporate America, provides resources and paid internship opportunities for aspiring accountants belonging to underrepresented racial groups. The organization also provides guidance for high school and college students, program alumni, and professionals.

“Collaborations such as these guarantee success for our Native students. When businesses support academic dreams, our students benefit, our communities benefit, and our economies thrive,” says Wilson.

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REDW LLC. “Corrine Wilson: Lighting the Way for Native American Women of Finance.” REDW.com, March 22, 2021. https://www.redw.com/blog/2021/03/22/corrine-wilson-lighting-the-way-for-native-american-women-in-finance/. Last accessed October 11, 2022.

Swed, Kathleen. “Accounting Resources and Organizations for Underrepresented Racial Groups.” Accounting.com, September 27, 2022. https://www.accounting.com/resources/minority-accountants/#:~:text=Among%20the%20bachelor’s%20and%20master’s,up%2029%25%20of%20professional%20staff. Last accessed October 11, 2022.

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