Business | Opinion

Barry Brandon: DOJ places a chokehold on tribal loan enterprises

The office of American Web Loans in Red Rock, Oklahoma, owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. Photo by Jane Daugherty.

Barry Brandon, the executive director of the Native American Financial Services Association, blasts the Department of Justice for targeting tribally-owned Internet loan businesses:
Between 1868 and 1881, nearly 31 million bison were slaughtered. The Native population was devastated too, dropping by more than 76% by the end of the century, to 237,000 from at least one million. We have spent the decades since trying to rebuild from this devastation, living on reservations in some of the most geographically isolated areas of the country. Don't be misled by tales of casino riches; for most reservations, cut off from population centers, establishing traditional businesses as a means of economic development and revenue is untenable.

Thus the geography-defying digital revolution has meant a financial revolution for Native Americans: Several tribes have begun to benefit in recent years from e-commerce by owning and operating businesses offering short-term installment loans over the Internet. The Otoe-Missouria in Oklahoma and the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Michigan are two such tribes, out of the more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.

The businesses help fund tribal-governmental programs at a time when we desperately need it. In some tribes, the revenues account for more than half of their operating budget. One hundred percent of the profits go directly to the tribe's budget, and those funds go to critical social programs including health care, elder care, education, the administration of justice and nutrition assistance.

These enterprises depend on having access to a healthy and thriving banking system so that consumers seeking loans can have their funds deposited and make their payments on time. Without this access to the financial system, our businesses cannot operate, leaving our revenues to dry up and our tribes to slip once again into the poverty cycle.

Get the Story:
Barry Brandon: The Feds Choke Off Native American Income (The Wall Street Journal 9/9)

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Barry Brandon: Media gets it wrong yet again on tribal lenders (07/10)