Native-owned financial institutions battle credit deserts

In rural areas without access to banking, tribal enterprises are helping fill gaps.

 

Circles indicate the headquarter locations and asset sizes of banks and credit unions owned by, and community development financial institutions primarily serving, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian individuals and communities. Click the source to view an interactive version of this image.

Native American-owned financial institutions are helping combat “credit deserts” in rural and Indigenous areas. The Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) released a map of Indigenous banks, credit unions and community development financial institutions (CDFI) that serve both tribal members, who often lack access to financial entities, and the surrounding rural communities as well.

According to Patrice Kunesh, director of CICD, Indian Country and rural America often lack access to financial institutions. When we ask if we are meeting the credit and capital needs of Indian Country, we will measure the distance between the community and the nearest bank, says Kunesh. That distance can be well over 50, 60, 70 miles or more.” Kunesh says tribes considering moving into financial services can fill these gaps. 

The Metlakatla, AK branch of Tongass Federal Credit Union is a financial cooperative that tailors services to residents with cyclical income cycles.
Denise Hudson
Kunesh also says Native-owned banks offer tribal members opportunities other financial institutions cannot, owing to their intimate knowledge of the community. Tongass Federal Credit Union, for instance, serves southeast Alaska and is able to modify and craft lending products, such as car or home loans, specifically for local Indigenous communities. (Tongass) knows that income cycles are very cyclical, according to hunting and fishing and so forth,” says Kunesh. (They) are able to structure the loan to support the income cycles of that community.”

Beyond structuring loans and mortgages to match the rhythms of particular communities, CICD says the introduction of micro-site banking in tribal areas can help tribal citizens cut down on the long drives required in places that lack local brick-and-mortar banks. At the same time, they also undermine predatory financial institutions, like payday lenders, preventing them from making inroads in rural communities.

A banking desert is an area with inadequate banking services. Low-income residents and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the issues associated with banking deserts.
Source: Morgan et al. and CASSIDI

“There’s a whole history of Native people not being served, and there’s another whole trend about Native Americans being preyed upon by payday lenders and check-cashing facilities that just charge exorbitant fees, said Kunesh.They’re paying a lot of money out of their own pocket to have a service that they should be able to have access to at nominal cost to them in their own community.

Nearly 100 Native-owned credit unions, banks and community development financial institutions serve tribal members nationwide, primarily in the West. Kunesh says that she hopes CICD’s map will foster understanding of the importance of Native-driven economic and community development in Indian Country.

“We see really big opportunities to create networks around access to capital.”

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and associate editor of the High Country News tribal affairs desk. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.  

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a friendly, detail-oriented, and self-motivated Development Coordinator to provide administrative support to the Development department. This position will report to...
  • FIELD ORGANIZER, MONTANA
    Help Northern Plains Resource Council protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the...
  • FOR SALE
    Successful llama trekking business with Yellowstone National Park concession for sale! A fun and enriching business opportunity of a lifetime! Call 406-580-5954
  • ALBUQUERQUE VACATION HOME
    Centrally located. One bed, one bath, lovely outdoor patio, well-stocked kitchen.
  • NEW AGRARIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Quivira (www.quiviracoaltion.org), a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that aims to shift current practices of agriculture and land stewardship to those that produce good food, support meaningful...
  • SPECTACULAR SCENIC MOUNTAIN VIEW HOME BUILDING SITE
    Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    opportunity in Eugene, Oregon! To learn more and to apply, visit our website at www.bufordpark.org.
  • FUNDRAISING & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Does the prospect of working to protect one of the Southwest's last remaining flowing rivers get you excited? Join the team at Friends of the...
  • DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
    Position Summary Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a dynamic, organized, and creative Digital Engagement Specialist to be an essential part of our growing Communications Team....
  • NORTH IDAHO FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
    Founded by sportsmen and women 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to conserving and enhancing Idaho's natural resources, wildlife, habitat,...
  • SMALL HISTORICAL FARM FOR SALE - NEW MEXICO
    23-acres, adobe home, shop, barn, gardens, pasture, orchard. https://www.zillow.com/homes/222-Calle-Del-Norte,-Monticello,-Nm_rb/ or call 575-743-0135.
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year round outdoor living. REDUCED to: $1.17 MM 575-536-3109
  • GRANTS MANAGER AND EDITOR
    Are you a strong communicator who excels at building relationships, writing winning grant proposals, and staying organized? You sound like a good fit for our...
  • REPORTER
    The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 2017 JOHN DEERE LAWN MOWER Z930R
    15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • HEAD BREAD/PASTRY BAKER AND ASSISTANT POSITIONS
    Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921