ONEIDA – A national bank is seeking to make tribal economies more transparent for potential investors and is commending the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin for its financial moves.
“Tribal communities are economically invisible,” said Dawson Her Many Horses, head of Native American banking for Wells Fargo & Company.
He said there’s not much economic data available about tribal businesses that potential investors would use to justify their investments.
Despite this, in rural Wisconsin counties where tribal reservations are located, tribes are one of the top, if not the top, employers in the county employing both Native and non-Native workers.
Unlike much of American society in which most business is owned and operated by corporations and individuals, business in Indian Country is mostly owned and operated by sovereign tribal governments.
Tribal officials are often reluctant to share detailed economic data with outsiders, citing proprietary information.
“Any financial information provided would need to protect tribes at an individual level while still showing economic opportunities (for potential investors),” Her Many Horses said.
Wells Fargo is organizing a meeting next month in New York between tribal leaders and finance and public accounting executives to discuss a strategy on how to do that.
One way that can be done, Her Many Horses explained, is by expanding on national reports, such as that by the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The NIGC’s latest report shows Indian gaming revenue totaled $39 billion nationally in 2021, which is 40% over 2020 when casinos had to close because of the pandemic and 13% over pre-pandemic 2019.
Wells Fargo’s tribal economic development report released this month highlights the economic resiliency of the tribes to come back in gaming revenue after the pandemic.
The report also recognizes tribal banks, such as Oneida’s Bay Bank with $140 million in assets, as a success story for helping to develop Indian Country.
“Native-owned regional/local banks hold much less capital than national banks but represent a significant source of capital for non-gaming mid-market businesses,” the report states. “These institutions occupy a unique position of community trust and respect, often boasting closer relationships within Indian Country than national banks.”
The report highlights the business savviness of the Oneida Nation, as well as other tribes, by featuring some of Oneida’s business decisions, such as investing in a joint $43 million venture to develop the Marriott Residence Inn in Washington, D.C., with three other tribes.
“This represented a significant tribal investment in non-gaming enterprises,” the report stated. “By combining resources, the tribes minimized risk and built upon each other’s diverse business experiences. The success of the venture created a positive precedent for similar future investments.”
Oneida Nation also conducted the first intertribal loan in history when it contributed to the Lakota Fund in 2005 to help improve the lives of people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Not mentioned in the report is the opening of Oneida’s Bay Bank on the Menominee Reservation in 2020, the first time a tribally-owned bank opened on the reservation of another tribe in Indian Country.
It is designed to help Menominee citizens develop businesses and homes on the reservation.
American Indians and Alaska Natives are the most unbanked of any race in the U.S., according to the FDIC.
Frank Vaisvilas is a Report for America corps member who covers Native American issues in Wisconsin based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact him at email@example.com or 815-260-2262. Follow him on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank.You can directly support his work with a tax-deductible donation online at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA or by check made out to The GroundTruth Project with subject line Report for America Green Bay Press Gazette Campaign. Address: The GroundTruth Project, Lockbox Services, 9450 SW Gemini Drive, PMB 46837, Beaverton, Oregon 97008-7105.