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Bank serving American Indians passing a milestone

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For one novel eight-year-old Washington bank, an important measure of success will be reached this year: It will pay taxes for the first time. By itself, that is not unusual; in a capitalist economy, businesses -- including banks -- are supposed to turn a profit and pay taxes on it. What is odd is that most of this bank's customers live some distance from its District of Columbia headquarters, about 2,000 to 3,000 miles west.

The bank is the American Indian National Bank, considered one of the most successful minority-oriented banks in the country, a reputation it has had to earn quickly, since in 1978 it was suffering heavy losses, primarily because of what its management refers to as a "soggy" loan portfolio.

The bank's location here doesn't make it any easier to explain its success. The headquarters -- and sole Washington office -- is on the third floor of an office building situated diagonally across from the Old Executive Office Building. Until recently, there wasn't even a sign in the lobby to advertise its location. Now that there is a sign, a lot of people drop in to ask what a bank with a name like thatm is doing here.m

What it is doing here is performing the function it was designed for when it was founded in 1973: acting as a funnel for the flow of money from various federal agencies and bureaus to Indian tribes around the United States. It also uses deposits from individual Indians and tribes to reinvest in Indian development projects.

Bank funds have helped finance projects like a wood products plant in Oregon, a chain of Navajo stores in New Mexico, a livestock auction in Washington State, and a dish antenna for receiving television signals by satellite.

And more recently, American Indian National has been going after business in the Washington, D.C. area, including the area's black and Hispanic residents, as well as accounts from small businesses, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations.

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