SAN DIEGO - Fifteen Native American tribes are joining forces to form a bankers' bank that would serve tribal communities throughout the United States.
Tribal leaders say they expect to reach their $30 million fund-raising goal by the end of summer and could open Native American National Bank as early as this fall.
The Denver bank - to be capitalized principally with revenues from Indian casinos - would be the first in the United States owned by a group of tribes, according to John Beirise, president and chief executive officer of the bank and its holding company, Native American National Bancorp.
"This is an opportunity to deploy the capital that gaming has created to create a more diversified, more secure economic future for Native American tribes," Mr. Beirise said.
Organizers of Native American National began raising capital in earnest a year ago, Mr. Beirise said. The Mille Lacs Band of the Minnesota Chippewa, owner of Woodlands National Bank in Onamia, Minn., has committed itself to invest in Native American National, but Mr. Beirise would not disclose the names of other investors.
Mr. Beirise was hired in December from Mercantile Bank in St. Louis to head the organizing effort. Speaking last Thursday at a bank formation conference here sponsored by the North American Native Bankers Association, Mr. Beirise said the bank's primary function would be to supply much-needed capital to the 10 banks owned by individual tribes on reservations.
"Our goal is to work with existing Indian banks to enhance [their] ability to meet the needs of tribes and their members," he said.
The new bank might also encourage the formation of more banks on reservations. One goal of the North American Native Bankers Association, a two-year-old group of tribal-owned banks, is to spur the creation of 50 additional banks within five years, according to J.D. Colbert, the group's president.
"When tribes are in control of the money, they are in a position to empower their tribe and their tribal members so they can improve their quality of life," Mr. Colbert said.
About three years ago tribal leaders visited Washington seeking solutions to chronic capital problems on reservations, Mr. Beirise said. The response from Congress, according to Mr. Beirise: "You already have some capital from the casinos. Put your money where your mouth is and take control of your own destiny."
Mr. Colbert acknowledged that the tribes most likely to start up banks will be those that have operated successful casinos. Of the 551 federally registered tribes, 160 have compacts with states allowing them to operate casinos.
But tribes that do not operate casinos have other sources of capital, Mr. Colbert said. For instance, a Treasury Department program allows qualified minority-owned banks to obtain certain deposits of participating federal agencies. In addition, he said, many nonprofit groups and foundations are looking to deposit their operating funds in tribal-owned banks.
"Tribes will still have to show the bank regulators that there is a market in the geographical area they want to serve," Mr. Colbert said.