It wasn't a bank deal, but a Native American group's planned acquisition of a New York investment firm could be a sign of things to come for the banking industry.

In September it was announced that the Lower Brule Sioux Indian tribe in South Dakota, flush with cash from its interests in retail, farming, tourism and casinos, purchased Westrock Group Inc., a New York broker dealer.

When the deal closes, Westrock Group would be the first investment firm to be 100-percent tribally owned. So it's worth asking: are community banks, many of which sorely need capital, on tribes' radar screens as well?

One deal has already been struck this year - in July, Iowa River Bancorp, a subsidiary of the Meskwaki Tribe of Iowa, bought the $56 million-asset Pinnacle Bank in Marshalltown - and William Lomax, president of the Native American Finance Officers Association, says he knows of at least one tribe that is actively looking to buy another bank, though he would not name names.

Over all, Native American tribes' have not traditionally been active players in the world of banking and finance, but Lomax says he believes that more tribes will take advantage of the lower cost of entry these days and invest in small banks.

"It would not surprise me if more tribes pursued financial institutions," he says. "As Tribes seek to diversify their economies, financial services may turn out to be a very good long-term play."

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