WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Shipe family may be “anglo” but its credit union connections and commitment to the Arizona Indian community-indeed, the entire CU industry-run deep and long-standing. Which is why their “mixed” view on the formation of new Indian-run CUs is noteworthy. “Whether native Americans use existing credit unions or start new ones really depends on what the groups want to accomplish-if it’s housing, then a new credit union is not the way to go but if it’s for having something unique they can control and own, then I say `yes’,” declares a key figure in the Shipe clan, Robert Shipe. Shipe is president of the $48 million First American Credit Union here and is the son of the late J. Orrin Shipe, former managing director (CEO) of CUNA and former president of the Arizona Credit Union League. The 52-year-old Shipe, who grew up in Madison, Wis., has been president of the Navajo-based First American since 1974, and older brother, James, manages the CU’s Casa Grande branch. Another brother, Tom, is president of the non-Indian Sun Country Credit Union, Sun City West, and Tom’s wife, Mary, is president of Alhambra Credit Union of Phoenix. Both Robert and Mary are directors of the Arizona Credit Union League and Mary, elected last month to the CUNA Board, is in the League chairs serving this year as vice chairman. Regarding new Indian CU formations, Robert Shipe told Credit Union Times, he understands the desire of Indian groups to have their own institution because other CUs tend to “cherry pick.” Moreover, Indian-run CUs understand the culture and know best the workings of the tribal courts and the sovereignty concerns. “This is obviously a problem for credit unions when they face repossession problems on Indian lands,” maintained Shipe. At the same time, experienced management is a necessity for these institutions noting that he was brought into the First American job “when it was on the verge of bankruptcy after they had three previous managers.” The “clannish” nature of the tribes “sometimes makes it difficult for tribal elders to say no” on loans to family members, observes Shipe. First American today has 19,000 members and in addition to its main office here and branch in Casa Grande also has a facility in Gallup, N.M. The First Nations Development Institute lists First American as one of seven “Native-affiliated credit unions” in 2000, its most recent compilation. It also lists eight “tribally owned commercial banks” in the U.S plus three more “owned by individual enrolled members of federally recognized tribes.” -

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