On the Reservation

The United States is home to more than 560 federally recognized Native American Tribes, representing fewer than two percent of the U.S. population.  These tribes, America’s original inhabitants, work hard to preserve their culture and their languages and live their lives with a strong sense of community, self-determination and self-reliance.  

Life on Indian reservations is challenging. More than 25% of Native Americans live in poverty.  On some of the more remote Reservations, unemployment can exceed 60%.  And in the Age of the Internet, while three-quarters of Americans have reliable access to broadband, for native people that number drops to 1 in 10.

With so many tribes relegated to geographically remote reservations, the virtual world of e-commerce has opened the doors to a significant and unique economic development opportunity. For the Indian nations currently trying to take advantage of the possibilities the digital revolution now offers, revenues from their online lending businesses can account for as much as 75 percent of a tribal government’s revenue. These profits help fund critical social programs provided by tribal governments, including health care, education, home heating subsidies, nutrition assistance, housing, elder care and more. The businesses also create jobs on the reservations, reducing the unemployment rate and giving tribal members the opportunity to free themselves from dependence on government support.

Excerpts From An Unlikely solution



One in four Native Americans live in poverty.

[Pew Research Center]

The labor force participation rate of Indians is only 61.6 percent – the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups.

[U.S. Labor Department]

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Meet Consumers

Over 25 million people in the U.S. are unbanked, and another 67 million people are underbanked, meaning they are without an account at a bank or other financial institution, often because they lack the minimum balance to open checking and savings accounts. Many consumers who fall into this category are educated, middle-income families.

Traditional sources of credit are generally not an option for these consumers. The small dollar short-term loan products provided by tribes is helping millions of these Americans who are unable to access credit from conventional financial institutions, but need quick access in order to meet urgent financial situations.

According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, "Having the ability to borrow relatively small sums, on reasonable terms, can help individuals weather a financial shock, smooth income fluctuations, build a positive credit history, and facilitate a wealth-building purchase."




[2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 10/2014]

38 million Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck

[Greg Kaplan, Giovanni Violante and Justin Weidner, “The Wealthy Hand-to-Mouth,” The Brookings Institution, 3/20/2014]

Nearly 93 million Americans are unbanked or underbanked


In 2013, the number of federally insured banks fell to the lowest number since 1934. Rural areas have been particularly impacted — becoming “bank deserts.”

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understanding tribal sovereignty

While the initial entry of Native American Tribes into this relatively new world of e-commerce has often been through their online lending businesses, tribal leaders recognize that the real issue is about preserving their sovereign right to participate in a global economy that is increasingly dependent on the Internet.

Tribal lenders are legal, licensed, and regulated businesses that follow all applicable federal laws and operate pursuant to sovereign tribal law. And yet, the quick growth of the online lending industry has outpaced a general understanding of how Native American Sovereignty interacts with federal and state law, creating a tangled web of legal issues where state, tribal and federal laws and policies are colliding

The United States Department of Justice recently began targeting tribal businesses as part of a program called Operation Choke Point: a concerted effort to put specific industries it deems “undesirable” out of business. It works by pressuring banks to cut off tribal lenders from essential business services like having bank accounts, accessing payment processing networks, verifying customer information and more. Access to the banking system is an essential component of these tribal lending enterprises. Without that access, businesses simply cannot operate – forcing them to close their doors, drying up the revenues they provide to tribal governments, and causing the members of the tribes to slip back into a cycle of poverty. The strategy behind these Operation Choke Point efforts is clear: to circumvent the inherent sovereignty guaranteed Native Americans by the Constitution and centuries of legislative and judicial precedents by administratively strangling off their access to the financial system.

An Unlikely Solution

Native American Tribes and consumers without access to traditional avenues of credit have been united by the Internet in a unique partnership.

Native American Tribes have founded online lending businesses as virtual vehicles to create jobs and fund essential social services for their members, often in remote areas with stagnant economies and high unemployment. And the lending product they are delivering to Americans in need – the online installment loan – is a major innovation in consumer finance.

Online installment loans are a customer-driven evolution away from the two-week payday loan typically offered at brick and mortar storefronts across America.

“Let’s put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian Country — because every American, including every Native American, deserves the chance to work hard and get ahead…,”
— President Barack Obama, June 16, 2014

about the filmakers

Chuck Banner

Known as both an artist and an activist for his acclaimed work with Native Americans in the entertainment industry, Chuck moved to Hollywood in the early 90's to become VP of Production for his father's company Bob Banner Associates.  While also developing his own company BannerCaswell Productions and Earthstream Media with his partner Ben Caswell, Chuck carries the torch as President of Bob Banner Associates, one of the oldest independent TV production companies, managing what is arguably one of the most prestigious classic library of TV series, specials and movies in television history. Chuck has also spent the last ten years helping to develop a state-of-the-art digital distribution platform in conjunction with a live, broadcast-quality streaming solution.

Chuck has decades of experience working as both artists and activists within Indian Country, beginning with his very first time behind the camera documenting of Yellow Thunder Camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1981. In addition to creating a number of films focused on Native American rights, Chuck and Ben were founding members of the acclaimed American Indian Summer Institute, in partnership with friend and mentor Floyd Red Crow Westerman, which provided over 250 native youth and young adults with hands-on training in the entertainment industry from 2001 until 2010 working with Fox Studios Diversity Department in intensive one-week immersion programs in the entertainment industry.  Many of the students that attended AISI are currently working the industry.  Chuck is an accomplished Producer, Director, Cinematographer and Editor with over thirty years of production experience, from single camera interview to multi-camera productions with the Dallas Symphony.

Watch Chuck Introduce An Unlikely Solution at Cato Film Screening


Ben Caswell 

Ben and Chuck began working together in 1992 when Ben joined Bob Banner Associates as Bob Banner’s executive assistant.  Chuck and Ben’s first film project together was documenting the 20th Anniversary of Wounded Knee in 1994 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  In 1998, they started a job-training program in Television and Film production in Hollywood with The Southern California Indian Centers and Floyd Red Crow Westerman called InterTribal Entertainment. In the second year of Intertribal Entertainment they were founding members of Fox Studios Diversity Depatment’s The American Indian Summer Institute, which was a summer mentoring program that brought Native youth to LA from all over the country for a week to learn about the entertainment industry.  In 2005, Ben and Chuck formed BannerCaswell Productions, an inde-tv production company.  Within three years BCP produced two (2) twenty-six (26) episode series for a health and wellness cable network called VERIA.  They also manage the BBA Library of classic television, including The Jimmy Dean Show that will begin broadcasting in October 2015 on RFD-TV.  In addition, Ben spent 10 years in front of the camera and is a proud member emeritus of the Writers Guild of America. 


Earthstream Media is a specialty media company dedicated to social and environmental consciousness through cutting-edge digital media production. Earthstream Media strives to create connection in a global exchange by offering individuals and communities an opportunity to be heard. Through entertainment, information, branding, and high-quality media production, we aim to make the world a better place for future generations – our most valuable natural resource. In all these ways we are dedicated to taking purposeful media from the Earthstream to the mainstream.