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
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland vehicle for long distance travel on or off road. Fully self-contained. Less than 25,000 miles. Located in Redmond, OR. Offered at $225,000. Call 541-526-5164.
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • 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.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • 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...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • 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,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.