Lessons From The Reservations

November is Native American Heritage Month and a time to applaud credit unions that reach into reservations to help the underserved.


The year, credit unions seem to have intensified their focus on serving the underserved. One of the newest credit unions in the country – Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union that opened in March – is bent on reaching out to the unbanked in Wilmington, Del. And recently, nearly 700 credit unions were granted “low income” status, meaning their efforts to connect with the underserved have given them exemptions from certain industry restrictions and extra capital.

But one group of credit unions has been giving hope to its out-of-reach members for decades – credit unions that serve Native Americans. November is National American Heritage month, when Native Americans are celebrating their rich culture and others are hailing their contributions to our country’s history and future. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the successes of credit unions on reservations and adopt some of their community-focused spirit.

Lakota Federal Credit Union in South Dakota, Chippewa Eagle Federal Credit Union in Michigan, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Federal Credit Union in South Dakota are among the credit unions serving Native Americans. Like Stepping Stones, Lakota FCU received its charter from the NCUA to operate this year with a low-income designation. It will serve about 40,000 people on a 2.2 million acre reservation in South Dakota, many of whom are vulnerable to predatory lenders. The median income in the area is $25,000.

Chippewa Eagle FCU ($2.7M, Mount Pleasant, MI), which was chartered in 2010, serves members and employees of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, a potential membership of about 7,800. It’s closing in on $1 million in loans and has drawn 1,219 members as of the second quarter. It’s scoring the expected growth of a new credit union, with 70.1% 12-month loan growth and 25.3% ROA. And Sisseton-Wahpeton Federal Credit Union ($4.1M, Agency Village, SD) is providing a range of services to the Sioux Tribe, from collateralized loans to Christmas Club savings accounts.

Many Native American communities have high rates of poverty and unemployment and have a difficult time attracting financial institutions to serve them. And it’s credit unions that have risen to the challenge to serve such communities and keep Native Americans out of digging into a deep cycle of debt. With these efforts, credit unions are ensuring that Native Americans can have pride in both their past and future.


Oct. 29, 2012



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