With International Credit Union Day taking place on October 17, the staff at the Lakota Federal Credit Union, the only federally-insured financial institution on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is celebrating reaching and exceeding the 1,000 mark in members. To be exact, since opening last November, the Lakota Federal Credit Union has built a membership base of 1,008 members and disbursed over $480,000 in loans.
International Credit Union Day has been celebrated on the third Thursday of October since 1948, and this year’s theme, “Credit Unions Unite for Good: A Better Way,” is a milestone in the credit union movement as it has identified a common vision. At the cornerstone of this vision is a dedication to financial well-being, which is also at the heart of the Lakota Federal Credit Union’s mission. Access to basic financial tools that most of mainstream America takes for granted translates into big changes for people like Lynn Dubray from Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
A member of the Lakota Federal Credit Union since November 2012, Lynn now is able to use such services as direct deposit and bill pay at a financial institution located less than a mile away from her place of employment. Before the credit union opened, getting to the closest bank meant an hour drive on poorly maintained roads. In addition, Lynn has obtained a vehicle loan and opened savings accounts for all seven of her children and grandchildren.
“I want my children and grandchildren to learn about banking and handling their finances so they will know how to make wise choices with their money later on,” says Lynn. “It’s about setting a foundation for them to be successful.”
That foundation is being set for many of the twenty-five grade school participants in a local matched savings program facilitated by Lakota Funds, a non-profit organization that chartered the establishment of the Lakota Federal Credit Union.
The participants of this program, called the Child Development Account Program, are exposed to basic financial concepts and gain real life experiences of opening and making regular deposits into a savings account.
“The Lakota Federal Credit Union has really provided new opportunities for our local residents and program participants. Especially for the participants of our Child Development Account Program who get to come into the branch for their transactions, we are seeing the greatest potential for lasting change,” states Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds and Board Chairperson of the Lakota Federal Credit Union.
As in other low-income communities with high rates of unbanked populations, the alternative financial services industry – check cashers, payday lenders, and title loan companies – is on the rise on the Pine Ridge Reservation and its surrounding areas. While these services have a reputation for preying on the poor and leading their customers into a cycle of debt, the Lakota Federal Credit Union is on the front lines of the credit union movement toward values-based decision-making. In line with the “Credit Unions Unite for Good: A Better Way” theme, this approach focuses on serving as a financial partner that provides fair and affordable products and services to improve the lives of its members.
In the past year, participants in the Child Development Account Program have saved over $12,000 that they can use for education expenses. “These kids are going to grow up knowing how to use financial tools and are going to be comfortable walking into any financial establishment as they mature. This is an opportunity that the adult generation here on the reservation was never given – until recently,” says Brunsch.
About the Lakota Federal Credit Union
In January 2009, several community leaders started in pursuit of a dream to establish the Lakota Federal Credit Union to serve the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. The proposed credit union would provide basic banking services to help the Oglala Lakota Oyate (people) achieve their financial goals, and in turn help the local economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation to thrive. This was a huge undertaking, as the Pine Ridge Reservation had not had a financial institution of its own since the Oglala Sioux Tribe accepted the Indian Recognition Act in 1935.
In August of 2012, the Lakota Federal Credit Union received its charter from the National Credit Union Association and officially opened its doors in November 2012. Even in its first day of operations, the Lakota Federal Credit Union made a big impact – opening 26 accounts and making one loan. Currently, the Lakota Federal Credit Union provides savings accounts, loan products, and various convenience services to those that live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The Lakota Federal Credit Union’s mission is to provide quality financial services conveniently located at home on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in a helpful, professional and respectful manner and to provide effective tools for its members, the Oglala Lakota people, to save, plan, and provide for their futures.