Native Sun News: Credit union opens new doors at Pine Ridge

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Lakota Credit Union Manager Whitney O'Rourke and Service Representative and Teller Shayna Richards are already busy opening accounts since the opening ten weeks ago. There will be a Grand Opening later in the spring.

Credit Union membership brings banking to Pine Ridge
By Christina Rose
Staff writer, Native Sun News

PINE RIDGE—In only nine weeks since it opened, the Lakota Federal Credit Union has attracted 317 members, and $1.2 million in deposits. “We have already approved $100,000 in loans, and that has been by word of mouth. It’s been huge,” Tawney Brunsch, executive director for the Lakota Funds, announced.

Brunsch said that she saw the need for a credit union almost as soon as she started at Lakota Funds. “I was surprised by the loan payments coming in as cash, and a big chunk of them were, because there were no other banks on the rez.”

Without a reservation-based bank, people were forced into taking predatory loans through car title lenders and pay day loans that charged exorbitant rates. Brunsch said that most people in Pine Ridge were not brought up with banking and were unaware of the cheaper options available to them. She said, “The only option was to go the convenience stores to cash a check and sometimes paying 20 percent because you didn’t know you could do that for $3 at the credit union. Turned out 60 percent of the reservation was under-banked, but I am sure it’s more.”

Brunsch said that the credit union will eventually open a branch in Pine Ridge. While at this time checking accounts are not provided, a pre-paid Visa debit card can be used for purchases and at any ATM machine. Because the card is not tied to a checking account, there will never be an overdraft fee.

For those who cannot get to the credit union to open an account, motor teller services will soon be provided. “We don't need a fancy building to open accounts,” Brunsch said, noting that they are already looking at hiring another teller who will go out into the communities once a week.

Whitney O’Rourke, manager of the Lakota Credit Union said they will assist the elderly with opening accounts for the social security or disability incomes, which is just in time. As of March 13, social security and disability will no longer be issuing checks. Those who currently receive either will have to open an account with direct deposit or receive a debit card from the agencies.

According to O’Rourke, “We may visit all the CAP offices and elderly centers so we can help them open their accounts here,” she said. “What we usually do is assign them an account and a routing number. We call the 800 number at the social security office and we help them through the process of getting their money sent here.”

“A lot of the elderly currently receive checks in the mail,” O’Rourke noted. “Some have already set up direct deposit. They say, “Oh my gosh, this is so easy. Set me up!”

The credit union will also benefit businesses that are located in the towns and communities in each district. With the closest banks being in Gordon, Rapid City or Martin, “It wasn't like you could run to the bank everyday or have access to those services,” Brunch said.

Despite efforts in the past, there are reasons why there has never been a bank on the reservation. “A bank is a business that has to make a profit in order to exist. You aren't going to make money here. Shannon is the third poorest county in the United States. Banks aren't willing to have the same motto as a credit union, ‘People Helping People.’ A credit union is a not-for-profit, and will not make a profit,” Brunsch said.

In order to join the credit union, a person must deposit $5. That money will always belong to the member and can be withdrawn if the member leaves the credit union. “Having your money here makes you a shareholder. You can run for the board and be nominated,” Brunsch said.

There are five board members: Dick Dryden from the Black Hills Credit Union, Melvin Cummings, Joey Rosales, Iris Gay, and Brunsch.

Board member Gay volunteers her time with the credit union, and has been involved for the last two years. She was nominated as secretary and said that the board of directors had to “go through all kinds of background checks.” As a long term member of the Black Hills Credit Union, she understood how credit unions operated. She said, “Kyle has been needing a bank for the longest time. We are still in the beginning phases, but the girls over there are already swamped!”

In order to open an account, members must either live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “We take investments & deposits from non- members, but a non-member can only open a CD and invest,” Brunsch said.

Manager O’Rourke said that non-members can make limited use of the credit union by making deposits or open a CD investment account.

O’Rourke said that the credit union is federally insured up to $250,000.

The Lakota Federal Credit Union is located in Suite 103/104 on the first floor of the Lakota Trade Center in the community of Kyle, SD. The hours of operation are: Monday - Thursday 9am-4pm, Friday 10am-6pm, Closed on all federal holidays!

To learn more visit the website at, where you can also download an application.

(Contact Christina Rose at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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