Tribal government dumps Wells Fargo

The Grand Ronde Tribal government will no longer be doing business with Wells Fargo Bank, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy announced during the Sunday, Nov. 5, General Council meeting to applause.

Tribal Council voted 8-1 in a staff directive approved on Oct. 13 to end the financial relationship. Tribal Council member Jack Giffen Jr. voted against the decision.

Kennedy cited three reasons for the Tribal government ending its financial relationship with the bank, including Wells Fargo’s involvement in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota, it creating millions of fake bank and credit card accounts for customers and forcing unnecessary auto collision insurance on more than 800,000 clients.

Kennedy said that Columbia Bank, based in Tacoma, Wash., with more than 150 branches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, will become the Tribal government’s new banking partner.

The Tribal government’s accounts with Wells Fargo are used to hold money only for short periods of time, Tribal Finance Officer Chris Leno said.

The Tribal government is currently going through a transition period and the transferring of accounts should be accomplished by early 2018.

The Tribal government first employed Wells Fargo for banking services from 1996 to 2005 and then rehired the bank starting in 2013. The Tribe started re-assessing its relationship with Wells Fargo earlier this year when the Finance Department issued a request for proposals for banking services.

The loss of Tribal business will cost Wells Fargo less than $100,000 in processing fees, Leno said.

However, the statement is more important than the lost revenue. In late 2016 and early 2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline project galvanized Indian Country as the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and volunteer water protectors protested the installation of an oil pipeline near the Sioux Reservation. Wells Fargo provided investment funding for Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the project.

Tribal Elder Tracie Meyer was one of the most vocal proponents of ending the Tribe’s relationship with Wells Fargo, raising the issue at many Tribal Council and General Council meetings. She said she was happy to hear the news during the General Council meeting.

“Yay on Wells Fargo,” Meyer said.

Bank officials told Leno that the problems Wells Fargo experienced were on the retail side with personal accounts and that there was not an overlap and that individuals responsible for those problems were not involved with commercial account oversight.

However, Leno said that although the Tribe’s commercial accounts were not affected, he was aware that individual Tribal members could have been affected by the fraudulent practices. He said those issues and the concerns about the bank’s involvement in the pipeline project were enough to prompt the Tribe to ask important questions.

A bigger financial issue, however, still is being decided as Spirit Mountain Casino is currently reassessing its banking relationships on its regular four- to five-year schedule.

Spirit Mountain Casino General Manager Stan Dillon said Wells Fargo has been the casino’s banking partner since the day the casino opened in 1995.