Changes to the way Crees bank are on the horizon. Soon, many communities may see the opening ofa new Indian-run bank. And, if the deal goes through, Crees will own a piece of the action.

In a tough competition to manage millions of Cree dollars, the Aboriginally-run First Nations Bankbeat out three of Canada’s biggest financial institutions to become the main bank in the Creeterritory.

“The deal is real… real good for all Crees”, enthused Bill Namagoose, who heads up the Crees’ banking task force.

The task force, which includes financial officers from the major Cree entities and all the communities, decided Crees would get a better deal if one bank served everyone.

“It was a tough decision,” said Namagoose about the competition for Cree money. ” The big banks pushed very hard to get our business.”

CIBC, Bank of Montreal and The Royal Bank all fought to handle the estimated $180-250 million from Cree entities, individuals, businesses and Band Councils.

In the end, the relatively-small, Saskatchewan-based First Nations Bank won out.

The First Nations Bank offered Crees ownership, said Namagoose, and that was the deciding factor. “Do we want to be bank customers for life or bank owners? We voted to own,” he said, adding Crees will be able to own up to 10% of the bank in the future. “Look around, the most profitable sector is financial, look at the bank profits these days.”

Namagoose said he doesn’t expect high profits in the beginning, but expects them later. “The difference is this bank will become part of the Crees’ economic engine.”

The First Nations Bank of Canada was launched officially on November 19th, 1996. It was conceived, packaged and developed by Aboriginal people, according to Keith Martel, Chairman of the bank.

“The bank is an important step towards economic self-sufficiency and towards political self-determ ination for Aboriginal Fteo-ples,” said Martel.

First Nations Bank is sponsored by the TD Bank but will get its own charter in about eight years.

If final negotations go well, Chisasibi will be the first community to get a new branch, said Martell.

“We’re really happy. The Crees are a great addition to the bank.”

However, Ron Jamison of the Bank of Montreal, was not as chipper.

“I am very disappointed,” said Jamison, a Mohawk and vice-president of the Aboriginal department of the Bank of Montreal. “The Bank of Montreal is working in many Aboriginal communities across Canada and we put a lot of effort into serving Aboriginal people.” For example, he said, the bank offers elders withdrawal slips in Cree and English.

As for the banks already operating in Cree communities, their future is unclear.

The manager of the CIBC in Chisasibi said he didn’t know what will happen to his bank.

“We’ve been here for 25 years and as long as we’re in business, we’ll stay,” said Jean-Pierre Gatien.

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come sits on the board of directors of the First Nations Bank whileWaskaganish Chief Billy Diamond sits on the Aboriginal Board of the Bank of Montreal.