Native-owned bank opens in south Minneapolis

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On March 2, Woodlands National Bank opened its first branch office in the Twin Cities. Located at 11th Street and Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, it will provide a full range of personal and business services to the community.

Woodlands National Bank is owned by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and headquartered in Hinckley. It has branches in Onamia, Hinckley, Sturgeon Lake, the Mille Lacs reservation, and Cloquet. The bank focuses on serving minorities, and President and CEO Lew Anderson looks forward to working with the diverse communities of the Phillips neighborhood.

Anderson says that

Woodlands National Bank recently received an “Outstanding” in its

Community Reinvestment Act Performance Evaluation. The federal Office

of the Comptroller of the Currency conducts the assessment, which

covers a bank’s record of meeting the credit needs of its entire

community, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent

with safe and sound operation. Only the most deserving banks receive

the high rating.

Anderson

is excited to bring this expertise to Minneapolis, “We want to bring

this level of service to Native people and to all folks in the Phillips

area.”

Anderson has been a major force for bringing the bank

to the urban Native community. “It has been his vision to open this

branch,” said Joanne Whiterabbit (Ho-Chunk), who has been hired as the

branch manager. “He wants the bank to provide opportunities to the

entire Indian community.”

In 2008 the Woodlands National Bank

was invited by the Native American Community Development Institute

(NACDI) and the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce to meet

with Minneapolis-based Native organizations to discuss the possibility

of establishing a bank that would serve the Franklin Community and

Native Americans in particular. Anderson pursued the prospect and

received support from NACDI, MAICC and other community organizations.

“When

we open an office in a new location, I like to invite a community

member to join the Board and provide feedback,” Anderson said.

Anderson

says experienced mortgage and commercial bankers are only an hour away

and can be at the Minneapolis location all day if clients need them.

“All the branch offices also have video conferencing, so when we need

to meet, we can all meet face-to-face, if not in person,” Anderson

said. “We have a television and camera set up in Minneapolis, so it

will be a full part of the bank network.”

Whiterabbit

says the bank brings all the products of a big bank but with the

benefits of a community bank that knows what is happening in Indian

communities. She’s particularly excited to bring the bank’s expertise

in HUD Section 184 to Minneapolis.

“It’s a program tailored to

Native people, to help get them into homes and to help with

refinancing,” she said. “It is a new federal program and not many banks

in the United States participate.”

As clients join, Woodlands

National Bank will add more staff. “We want to be responsive to the

community,” Whiterabbit said. “If we need commercial lenders or more

bankers at the Minneapolis branch, we will hire them.”

The Mille

Lacs Band of Ojibwe started the bank when it bought First State Bank of

Onamia in 1996, becoming only the third Indian tribe in the United

States to own a bank. The bank also became the first Native-owned bank

to be granted a national charter.

At that time, Mille Lacs Band

was looking to diversify its financial investments. “The band has a

very successful gaming business,” Anderson said. “But the bank allows

it to expand its opportunities and increase economic development.”

The

bank is part of the band’s overall efforts to overcome economic

stagnation and high levels of joblessness in the Mille Lacs Reservation

area.

When the bank was first purchased by the Mille Lacs

Band, it had $17 million in assets. Within three years, its assets had

increased nearly 50%. That prompted Mille Lacs leaders to acquire Rural

American Bank in Hinckley, with a branch office in Sturgeon Lake.

The

bank has expanded over the past ten years to bring its full-service

banking and unique approach to more customers. The bank offers

personal, business, and real estate services as well as ATMs, online

banking, IRAs, and safety deposit boxes.

“ATMs were unfamiliar

to many Mille Lacs Band members,” Anderson wrote in a 2001 article.

“But a marketing campaign resulted in dozens of new accounts, moving

account-holders into mainstream banking. Among other advantages, they

can now receive direct deposits from Social Security and other federal

benefits programs.”

In addition to Whiterabbit as branch

manager, there will also be a full-time teller and banker at the new

location. The bank will be open Monday through Friday with the

possibility of Saturday hours if clients express a need.

Woodlands

National Bank is also a founding member of the North American Native

Bankers Association which recognizes that tribally-owned banks are

fundamental to tribes’ economic self-determination and works to

increase the number of Indian-owned financial institutions.

Woodlands

National Bank is located at 1113 E. Franklin Ave., Suite 108 (in the

Ancient Traders Complex) in Minneapolis. For more information call

612-230-6960.