By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Native American Bank may set up a bank branch at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation this year.
The Chippewa Cree tribal council unanimously voted last Thursday to initiate the application process with the bank, council member Jonathan Windy Boy said.
"We've already made our initial commitment," Windy Boy said. "This is an opportunity (for) our investment, and I think it's going to help us and the whole area."
Windy Boy said the buy-in would cost the tribe $1 million. The tribe would take the money from a sum of about $3 million the tribe acquired as part of its water rights settlement with the federal government.
Jim Morsette, director of the tribal Water Resources Department, said the money is in an economic development fund that was part of the settlement package the tribe received from the federal government in 1999.
Native American Bank president and chief executive officer John Beirise said the bank is having conversations with the tribe about the possibility of opening a branch at Rocky Boy.
The bank's executive offices are in Denver, Beirise said, but its only banking facility is in Browning.
"We are having discussions with the leaders at Rocky Boy to talk about how we can assist the tribe and provide banking services in a more convenient fashion," Beirise said Tuesday.
Beirise said the bank is now gathering financial information from the tribe before submitting an application for a new branch to federal regulators.
"They would own a percentage of our holding company," Beirise said. The tribe would own less than 10 percent of the bank, he said.
Windy Boy said that if the branch moves in, it is likely that the tribe will pull its financial assets from Independence Bank and Wells Fargo in Havre.
"I'm sure it probably will happen," Windy Boy said. He said he was not sure how much the tribe has in Havre banks.
"It's a significant amount," he said.
Windy Boy, who is also a Democratic state representative, said a branch at Rocky Boy would help the tribe invest more in local projects.
"In this day and age we need to try to make the best bang for our buck," he said.
"We're just going to be investing more with our own dollars in our own infrastructure up here," Windy Boy said, adding that the bank would help support projects like a $10 million to $20 million health facility planned at Rocky Boy.
Windy Boy said a bank branch at the reservation would be much more convenient for tribal members, noting the inconvenience of driving 30 miles to do banking. But he said the tribe would not be advising tribal members to close their accounts in Havre and move them to the tribal bank.
"That's going to be an individual choice," he said. "We're not going to be dictating to anybody what they need to do."
Beirise also emphasized the distance between Rocky Boy and Havre.
"The reality is, how far is Havre from Rocky Boy? Not the most convenient location," he said.
Beirise said that once the tribe completes the application, the bank will apply to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, D.C., for approval.
The decision will depend in part on the local economy and the type of banking services already available, he said. Once the application is filed, it will probably take about 90 days, he said, adding that he thinks approval is likely.
"This would be our first expansion," Beirise said. "This is a really big deal."