Native American Bank
The Native American Bank is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Courtesy photo
Native American Bank lands significant investment
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A financial institution established by famed Native banker and activist Elouise Cobell is celebrating a significant investment by the second largest bank in America.

Bank of America recently announced that it had deposited $10 million into the holding company for the Denver-based Native American Bank, the country’s only Native-owned nationwide bank. The investment makes Bank of America a 4.9 percent owner of the bank.

“I think it says a lot about Native American Bank,” said Tom Ogaard, president of CEO of Native American Bank. “I think it says a lot about Bank of America.”

He said the investment will allow Native American Bank to continue funding Native projects, businesses and consumer lending needs. The bank has become a catalyst for economic development in Indian Country, providing funding for everything from compost facilities and homes to convenience stores and restaurants from Alaska to Florida.

Native American Bank is a $180 million for-profit bank that serves all customers, while focusing on lending and economic development to project on and near tribal lands. Of the bank’s 36 shareholders, 31 are tribal nations, tribal enterprises and Alaska native corporations.

The Native American Bank has its origins in Browning, Montana, where Cobell helped establish the Blackfeet National Bank in 1987. Cobell – who later became the lead plaintiff in Cobell v. Salazar, the groundbreaking class-action lawsuit that led to the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement – understood her reservation’s need for banking services that were tailored for Native people.

Elouise Cobell and Barack Obama
The late Elouise Cobell meets President Barack Obama at the White House on December 8, 2010. Cobell, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Indian trust fund lawsuit, which led to a $3.8 billion settlement with the federal government. Her efforts to improve financial services in her community led to the establishment of the Native American Bank. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

Soon after the founding of the Blackfeet National Bank, other tribes began petitioning the Blackfeet Nation to provide them with banking services. However, the small bank lacked the resources to serve other tribes.

So in 1998, a group of tribes decided to pool their resources to establish a national bank serving Native Americans.

Today, the Native American Bank is a certified Community Development Financial Institution focused on providing financial services for Alaska Native and Native American communities.

Ogaard said the investment from Bank of America represents a significant vote of confidence from one of the country’s leading financial institutions.

“It probably causes others to take a look, not just at NA Bank, but at Indian Country as a whole,” he said. “Any support that we can get to provide additional capital in Indian Country is certainly welcome.”

The Native American Bank provided crucial lending to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing more than $42 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2020. Of the 221 businesses that received PPP loans through the bank, 78 percent were Native owned.

“The health crisis has impacted all of us, disproportionately so in tribal and Native communities where Native American Bank’s efforts to support small businesses and jobs are helping to mitigate some of the enormous economic risks these communities face,” said Raju Patel, Denver President of Bank of America.

“Bank of America is committed to supporting the health and economic well-being of the region, which begins by supporting small businesses, who are the backbone of our communities,” said Patel.

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