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Native CDFI Network has partnered with one of North America’s largest banks to launch an initiative aimed at driving economic growth in Native American communities.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, Native CDFI Network and the BMO Harris Bank N.A. launched BMO for Native-owned Businesses to expand funding and resources to Native American communities across BMO’s footprint. 

The program is a part of parent company the Bank of Montreal’s EMpower initiative, a five-year, $5 billion fund that supports equitable economic recovery through lending, investing, giving and engagement in local communities. 

“At the heart of Native CDFI Network’s work is economic justice for Native people through access to capital and basic financial services. This newly formed partnership between NCN and BMO will more directly connect small business owners with Native CDFIs and, in turn, strengthen financial inclusion of Native people,” Pete Upton, interim CEO of Native CDFI Network, said in a statement. “NCN looks forward to launching and — over time — expanding this partnership to grow NCN’s ability to provide technical assistance to its Native CDFI members.”

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BMO for Native-owned Businesses expands the bank’s investment in small business lending to increase resources for women-, Black- and Latinx-owned businesses to include Native American-owned businesses.

Native American communities have historically faced immense barriers in accessing capital. According to a report by Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, Indigenous business owners are the least likely of all racial groups to obtain financing from a bank. Proximity to traditional banking institutions and thin credit profiles were cited as significant factors in this disparity. 

BMO for Native-owned Businesses provides access to working capital with a specialized credit-lending product that provides expanded credit criteria and competitive interest rates for customers. It also offers networking opportunities with BMO partners that support Native-owned businesses and educational tools and resources for tribal communities. 

Through the program, Native American business owners and entrepreneurs can receive loans of up to $50,000, which can be used for capital investments such as equipment, inventory, payroll and lease payments, as well as short-term receivables financing.

Eligible borrowers must have a physical operating location or headquarters in BMO’s retail banking markets, annual revenue of $10 million or less, and be 51 percent-owned or controlled by individuals who self-identify as Native American.

“Every business owner deserves access to funding that helps their business grow and make real financial progress,” Niamh Kristufek, head of U.S. business banking at BMO, said in a statement. “Many underserved and marginalized communities struggle to access capital, and we'’e proud that BMO’s new program will create more economic opportunities for Native American-owned businesses.”

BMO for Native-owned Businesses also builds on the bank’s recent efforts to elevate Indigenous communities in Canada with banking opportunities, which include Indigenous partnerships and an Indigenous Advisory Council. The financial institution recently committed to doubling its Indigenous Banking business in Canada from $4 billion to $8 billion.