Woodlands National Bank grows with Native American businesses

Minnesota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1996  | July 1996 issue

For Sale: A community bank whose owners want to retire. Wanted: A way to diversify the economy of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians and to better serve the Native American community. Result: Woodlands National Bank in Onamia.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians received approval from banking authorities earlier this year to purchase the First State Bank in Onamia and to change from a state to a national charter. These approvals paved the way for the creation of the first Native American-owned holding company in the nation, and the state's only Native American-owned bank.

As the only bank in Onamia, population about 700, and one of three bank main offices in Mille Lacs County, the bank already served a wide area. When the owners planned to sell the bank, it was natural for them to approach the Mille Lacs Band, a growing economic force in the area through its ownership of two casinos, a hotel, restaurants, a convenience store, a bakery, two schools, a clinic and two community centers. The Band's leadership was looking for further investment opportunities and a vehicle by which to better serve its 2,800 members, located in three communities in the east central part of the state.

Clark Baldwin, Woodlands president, says the bank will initially update customer products and services, such as adding ATM service and electronic payment capabilities. Once operations are modernized, Baldwin says, the bank wants to expand housing services, especially to the Native American community, for example by offering home mortgage packages and by managing the Band's housing programs. The bank has already made outreach efforts to Band members, Baldwin says, largely in financial planning and family budgeting sessions.

The bank has received many service inquiries from Band members who live outside the current service area as well as from other Native Americans, Baldwin says. "They want to do business with Native Americans and to further the sense of community," he adds.

The bank is also exploring branching to the reservation and perhaps to locations near Hinckley and MacGregor, where the other Mille Lacs communities are located. And Minneapolis' American Indian community has expressed interest in creating a relationship with the bank, Baldwin says. "We want to try to serve the Indian community as a whole."

Kathy Cobb