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
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Upper Missouri Waterkeeper seeks an Outreach Director to play a key role designing and leading activities and initiatives that engage citizens in water resource decisionmaking,...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...