Manataka American Indian Council

Proudly Presents



All Star James Smith

Assistant Finance Director

Native American Youth and Family Services

Move over Black Lodge Singers, there’s another drum group on the move and they’re all about business – literally. Bulls and Bears might not be a typical name for a powwow drum group, but don’t tell its founder, James Smith (Fort Peck and Warm Springs), who came up with the catchy handle as a play on some classic investing lingo. James is the Assistant Finance Director at Native American Youth and Family Services (NAYA) in Portland, Oregon. Unlike previous Financial Literacy All Stars working directly in the field, providing financial education isn’t in his job description. And that’s what makes this guy cooler than a sunset grand entry in late August.

Powwow has always been a huge part of James’ life. He was dancing tiny tot with a double bustle from the time he could walk and began singing as a teenager. But in his early twenties he got bit by a new bug.

“I started following the stock market during the internet boom of the nineties,” reflects James. “I was reading financial news and watching CNBC. So when I wasn’t sure what to study in school, finance seemed like a good fit.”

Click ahead 20 years and James is a well-educated family man who discovered a way to bond his love of powwow and finance like duct tape on a favorite pair of mocs. It all started in 2011 when he wanted a name for his new drum that would reflect his unique background and personality. Bulls and Bears, a financial idiom that refers to the opposing views of stock market investors, was the logical choice for a man with a master’s degree in financial analysis. And in case you’re wondering exactly what the phrase means, Bulls are optimists betting the market will go up, while pessimistic Bears see a market on the downslide.
James and his drum hit about 20 powwows a year, mostly in Oregon and Washington. He travels with his wife, Theresa, a teacher and accomplished artist, and his three children, Sophia, Harrison and Dean, all of whom dance. Along the way, Bulls and Bears has built quite a reputation.

“Some of the emcees think the name is a reference to Chicago sports teams and the old Saturday Night Live skits – Da Bulls ... Da Bears,” says James with a chuckle. “Another emcee introduces us at roll call as ‘Straight from Wall Street!’ ”

But there’s more to this story than a name. James has been around the powwow scene for decades and he’s seen a lot of changes over the years, like bigger contest purses and promoters who now report payments to IRS.

Bulls and Bears powwow drum led by James Smith (third from left) sing at NAYA Early College Academy in Portland, Oregon“Drums get 1099 tax forms for any income over $600 as do dancers who win prize money,” he explains.
“Unfortunately I run into people on the powwow trail who don’t keep track of this income which can really come back to haunt them if they don’t report it. I tell them to hold onto 1099s and receipts for deductible travel expenses such as mileage, lodging and per-diems. Basically I encourage them to treat powwow money the same as money they earn from a job or business.”

James also assists people he meets as casual acquaintances at other events. He’s quick to mention that he doesn’t give specific investing recommendations or tax advice, but he does send folks in the right direction for answers. Moreover he makes it a point to teach sound money skills to his kids, inspiring them to understand financial concepts rather than simply memorizing facts. Hey, what’s not to love about a guy who takes his family on a picnic while describing how municipal bonds can pay for city parks?

Thank you, James, for all that you do, and oh yeah … take it away Bulls and Bears!

(In the lower photo, the Bulls and Bears powwow drum is led by James Smith, third from left, with the group shown singing at NAYA Early College Academy in Portland, Oregon.)


Source: First Nations Development Institute