Seminole tribal leader Stanlo Johns has always valued the delicate ecology of southern Florida, where the Brighton-Seminole Indian Reservation sits in the Okeechobee Basin. So when he saw an opportunity to team up with an experienced company to partner in placing an industrial composting facility on tribal land, he leapt at the opportunity.
“Respect for the Earth is so much a part of our traditions that when this opportunity presented itself, it just seemed like the right thing to do,” he explains. “Through composting and compost use, we all become better stewards of a sacred trust.”
The McGill-Brighton Composting Facility, a partnership between Johns’s company Family Enterprises and international composting company McGill, was on schedule at press time to open its brand new facility in the fall of 2014.
The facility, which is sited on 85 acres of Brighton-Seminole tribal land, will have the capacity to compost about 100,000 tons of waste annually, converting much of the waste from local dairy farms and agricultural areas to useful compost, thereby reducing runoff to Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades.
This project, which will bring 20 new jobs to the Brighton-Seminole reservation, was made possible by financing from the Native American Bank, which has specialized for decades in bringing economic opportunity to Indian country.
Native American Bank (NAB), which is headquartered in Denver, was founded in 2001 to bring more financial services to Native American communities across the country that have been consistently underserved by traditional banking institutions.
Frustrated by the hurdles faced by tribal governments, businesses, and members in obtaining personal and business loans, NAB’s founders decided to use the resources and expertise within Native American communities to create the first Native-American-owned bank.
“A lot of banks are not willing to be patient enough to work with tribes because it takes a little longer to work through the tribal government than it would in a regular business,” says Debbie Emollah, vice president of NAB.
Issues ranging from tribal sovereignty, to differing tribal rules and regulations, to inflexible banking regulations that do not account for the specific circumstances of those living on tribal land, and more, makes financing on tribal lands more complicated, explains Emollah.
Realizing that economic growth and self-sufficiency could not happen for Native American communities without access to capital, over 20 Native American tribal nations and Alaska Native corporations came together to create the Native American Bancorporation, and these entities are the shareholders of the Native American Bank.
From the start, the bank’s mission has been to bring banking and financial services to Native American and Alaskan Native individuals, enterprises, and governments, to create jobs and achieve economic growth and independence. NAB has retail branches in Denver, CO, and Browning, MT, and also has online banking services.
NAB has funded business and tribal projects in 17 states, including grocery stores, a water treatment facility, a hotel, and a justice center, which includes a courthouse. The Brighton-McGill composting facility is an example of the bank’s focus on projects that bring in jobs while increasing the economic diversity of a region.
“It is important to the financial health of any local community to develop a diverse economic base spread across multiple sectors,” said Clay Colombe, senior vice president/chief lending officer for NAB.
“This project not only represents a major step toward that goal for the Brighton Reservation, but it also brings beneficial economic and environmental impact to the entire south Florida region.”
NAB’s home loan program specializes in helping people navigate HUD section 184 loans, or mortgages designed specifically to overcome some of the hurdles faced by Native American and Alaska Native people, on or off tribal lands.
In 2013, NAB’s home loan program worked with people in 22 states across the country. In addition to offering home and business loans, NAB has personal savings and checking accounts, as well as retirement savings accounts.
Like all financial institutions, NAB faced challenges during the recent economic recession, but the bank has worked hard in recent years to strengthen its loan portfolio, and is on track for sustainable profitability in 2014.
As of 2013, 94 percent of its loan portfolio is to Native American individuals, tribes, and enterprises, including 329 loans to individuals totaling $4 million and 86 loans to tribes and enterprises totaling $45.7 million. 59 percent of NAB employees are Native Americans spanning eight Native American Nations.
While NAB works exclusively with tribal governments, enterprises, and individuals, anyone can support NAB’s mission by investing in its work through a low-interest CD.
“By investing in a Native American Bank CD, investors are providing us with needed funds for more important projects,” says Emollah. The NAB CD is federally insured and has a $1,000 minimum investment, with an interest rate of .25% for a 12-month term.