Keeping native dollars in native communities<br><br>
“With each deposit and loan, as well as other financial services [provided by NAB], the revenues and assets accrued are invested and reinvested in Indian Country.”
Benjamin Jones, who lives in the Leupp community near Flagstaff, recognizes that off-reservation lending institutions are naturally hesitant to fund businesses on federal trust land. Non-native businesses are also cautious.
“There is a constant interplay of tribes having to relinquish sovereignty in order to attract development,” Jones said. “Tribal jurisdiction becomes a question when disagreement occurs, and the question becomes, what court is the appropriate venue for resolution— federal or tribal?”
“The Native American Bank has unique expertise in and sensitivity to the special circumstances involved in lending to tribes and off-reservation businesses, such as tribal sovereignty, the trust status of Indian land and the use of credit enhancements such as the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) loan guarantee program and mortgage programs under NAHASDA (Native American Housing and Self Determination Act),” Watchman said.
Steve Darden is a Navajo who has held several leadership positions in the Flagstaff community, including a seat on this community’s City Council.
Darden said that in 1984, Flagstaff’s Chamber of Commerce approached the council seeking political and financial support for the city’s tourism industry.
“I asked if the economic contributions from the tribes and other communities in the area could be separated from the tourism dollar to reflect the real picture,” Darden said.
All of these communities, Darden said, make an impressive contribution to Flagstaff’s economy, yet this contribution is included under tourism.
“In my opinion, the story was tainted,” he said. “Our people come to Flagstaff not as tourists. When you think of tourists, you don’t think of local residents, you think of people from New York, California, Germany or Japan.”
At that time, Darden discovered that the Hopi Tribe alone had a $19 million annual payroll.
“Most of that money was being spent in Flagstaff and Winslow,” he said. “I believe credit needs to be given where credit is due. I feel like the Native American contribution to our economy is being swept under the carpet.”
“There are significant cash flows throughout reservation communities,” Beirise said. “It’s important that we capture a larger share of this revenue within our communities, rather than watch it leak into border communities.
“Only through retention of our dollars can we support our own small businesses.”
Kenneth Reels, former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut, also sits on the holding company’s board of directors. He calls the Native American Bank a win-win situation.
“I believe all tribes should come to the table,” Reels said. “We need support from Indian Country.
“We want to have a name second to no one, a bank that caters to Indian Country.”
He sees NAB as a way for Native Americans to control their own finances—and said only through doing so can tribes view themselves as self-sufficient.
“We’re still in our infancy and learning every day,” Beirise said of the bank. “We’ve accepted one of the most challenging missions imaginable, but our success will mean something to Indian people, not some Wall Street investor.
“It is this knowledge that keeps our staff motivated.”
Watchman is enthusiastic about NAB.
“Spread the word. We have a native-owned bank,” he said. “The Navajo Nation has millions of dollars invested in off-reservation banks.
“I want to send the message the NAB is another prudent investment. I can say as the representative from the Navajo Nation that the mission is working.”
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