KYLE, S.D. (11/1/13)--International Credit Union Day had special significance for the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation this year. On Oct. 17, Lakota FCU, the only federally insured financial institution serving a reservation that spans wide swaths of South Dakota and a corner of Nebraska, announced that it surpassed the 1,000 member mark.
Since it opened its doors last November, three months after receiving its charter from the National Credit Union Administration, Lakota FCU has accumulated 1,008 members, offering vital services to one of the most impoverished regions in the country.
It has dispensed more than $480,000 in loans, offering lines of credit to residents who had previously been preyed upon by payday lenders, check-cashers and title loan lenders. The credit union has also launched education programs designed to get children on the reservation--some 35% of its population--to avoid exploitative financial institutions and services that have kept their forefathers ensnared in destitution.
Lynn Dubray, a Pine Ridge resident from Kyle, S.D. and Lakota FCU member since November 2012, said that prior to the credit union's opening, she had to drive for an hour on rarely maintained roads to access a financial institution. Lakota FCU is located less than a mile from where she works, and since becoming a member, Dubray said she has received a car loan from the cooperative, and has opened savings accounts for her seven children and grandchildren (Indian Country Today Media Network Oct. 16).
Lakota Funds, a non-profit that helped Lakota FCU get on its feet, is also working with the credit union to promote youth financial education by matching the savings of 25 grade school students in the Child Development Account Program.
"These kids are going to grow up knowing how to use financial tools and are going to be comfortable walking into any financial establishment as they mature," Tawney Brunsch, Lakota Funds executive director, and Lakota FCU board chair, told ICTMN. "This is an opportunity that the adult generation here on the reservation was never given--until recently."
The opportunity appears to have been sorely needed. Lakota FCU's membership represents about 2.5% of the entire Pine Ridge population. When Lakota opened its doors a year ago, Credit Union Association of the Dakotas said that a traditional "for-profit" bank wasn't really an option for the 40,000 people of the two-million-acre reservation. The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge has recently been higher than 80% (News Now Nov. 27, 2012).
Community leaders had worked to open Lakota FCU since January 2009. It has received three start-up grants from the U.S. Treasury Department's Native American Community Development Financial Institution Assistance Program. As a designated low-income credit union, it can accept deposits from anyone, whether or not they fall within its field of membership--those who live, work, worship, volunteer, study, or conduct business on Pine Ridge or whether or not they're Oglala Lakota Oyate--the part of the Sioux Nation, for whom the reservation was initially designated.