Attorney: Council doesn't plan to move its accounts


The attorney for the Chippewa Cree tribal council said today that although the council wants to open a bank on the reservation, it has no intention of taking the tribe's money out of banks in Havre.

"We're happy with the banking services we receive from those banks in Havre," attorney Dan Belcourt said.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe has accounts with Wells Fargo and Independence banks in Havre, he said.

The tribal council on June 5 unanimously agreed to pursue buying a less than 10 percent ownership in Native American Bank, headquartered in Denver, for about $1 million and apply to open a branch bank on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

In a story about the council's decision in Thursday's edition of the Havre Daily News, tribal council member Jonathan Windy Boy said he thought the tribe would probably move its financial assets to the branch bank.

That comment prompted Belcourt's call to the Daily News to clarify the council's position, Belcourt said.

He said the council's intent is to offer local banking opportunities to members of the tribe.

"We want to provide services on a more local level," he said.

Belcourt said the tribal council has no short-term or long-term plans to move its accounts to the Native American Bank branch. The money, from grants and government and private programs administered on the reservation, amounts to millions of dollars every year, he added.

Windy Boy, who is also a state representative, said today that a decision about which bank the tribe will use for its accounts would have to be made by the entire council.

"We need to do what we need to do as far as expansion," he said. "We're being more creative in our abilities of what we have and what's becoming available." Alan Pearson, president of Wells Fargo in Havre, said his bank has not contacted the tribal council about whether it plans to move its accounts.

"We certainly applaud them for their forward thinking and vision on what they want to do," he said.

Alvin Windy Boy Jr., the chair of the Chippewa Cree tribal council, and Chuck Celenia, president of Independence Bank, could not be reached for comment.

Applying for the branch bank is still in an early stage and is not 100 percent certain to happen, Belcourt added.

Once the tribe completes its application to the bank, the bank then must apply for approval from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, D.C.

John Beirise, president and chief executive officer of Native American Bank, said this week that processing the application would probably take the Office of the Comptroller about 90 days, and that approval of the branch would be likely.

Belcourt said if the applications are all submitted and processed quickly, the branch could be open in several months. It is more likely to be open by the end of the year, he added.

The bank has not decided whether it would start a branch in an existing building, bring in a structure or construct a new building, he said.

The council is continuing its efforts to develop more of a sense of community on the reservation by applying for the bank, Belcourt said.

"Bringing banking services is a very necessary component for any community," he said. "I think it's going to be a really positive move for our community."


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