Shayna Ferguson feels a twofold pride: for her Native American people and for the credit union she helped establish on South Dakota’s sprawling Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“I didn’t realize the opportunities that were out there, growing up on the reservation,” says Ferguson, manager of Lakota Federal Credit Union. “And because our credit union can help provide other opportunities on my home reservation, that gives me an awesome feeling.”
Ferguson was hired as a member services representative in 2012, one of only two employees at the newly established credit union. Today, she manages the first and only federally guaranteed financial institution on the two-million-acre reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
Before the credit union, many of the reservation’s 40,000 largely unbanked or underbanked residents— located in one of the nation’s poorest counties—turned to predatory lenders and the check cashing industry.
“It’s tremendous to know that we’re there for the native people who, for years, had few options to predatory lending,” she says.
The credit union got its start with the sponsorship of Lakota Funds, a community development organization on the reservation.
The credit union grew faster than expected, Ferguson says. It now has 2,200 members and $5.6 million in assets. Its sole branch is in the Lakota Trade Center in Kyle, S.D., which presents a challenge in reaching out to distant parts of the reservation. To counter that problem, the credit union partnered with the Rolling Rez Arts bus, which regularly makes the 50-mile trip to Pine Ridge to offer full banking services.
The credit union also partnered with Lakota Funds to establish a matched savings account, called an Individual Development Account. Lakota Funds offers a 3-to-1 match on money members set aside for purposes such as home ownership, college tuition, or business development.
For every dollar a member deposits up to $1,440, Lakota Funds deposits up to $4,320. The match requires members to take financial literacy classes, attend support meetings, and make monthly deposits.
“It brings me joy to tell other people exactly what a credit union is and what we can offer them as members,” Ferguson says.