Impact Voices | March 8, 2024

Lakota Vogel, Four Bands Community Fund: Rewriting the rules

Lakota Vogel

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Guest Author

Lakota Vogel

Editor’s Note: On this International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to share important moments in the lives and careers of five women in impact investing, in their own words. The stories are excerpted from “The Social Justice Investor: Advance Your Values while Building Wealth,” by Andrea Longton. Pre-order the book and RSVP for the April 23 launch party at LISC’s headquarters in New York.

“Hey Mom?” I called into the kitchen. “Do you know what this word means?” 

I heard a spray of water followed by the light clink of a dinner plate hitting the drying rack. 

“Lakota,” my mother responded in a soft voice I strained to catch. “If you want to ask me a question, please come into the kitchen and talk to me. Do not yell at me from the living room.”       

I rolled my eyes at my cousin, Allison, who I had invited over to watch TV and eat dinner. We had cheese pizza and Kool-Aid and were playing Monopoly until Allison’s mom arrived to take her home. 

I trooped across the living room and poked my head around the corner. 

“Sorry, Mom,” I said as I held up the Monopoly card I had drawn. “Do you know what the word ‘mortgage’ means?” 

Mom dried her hands on a towel and took the small playing card from my eager hands. 

“I don’t know,” she said, handing the card back to me. “Now go play with Allison while I call her mom. It’s getting late and the weather is starting to turn.” 

Whether she truly didn’t know—or just didn’t want to explain it to a nine-year-old, it was clear in the tone of her voice that the concept of a mortgage was inconsequential to our family’s reality. 

The immediate fix was easy—we decided to remove all the mortgage references from the game. 

Now, as I reflect on these moments in hindsight, I’m consistently amazed by the life lessons I learned while playing that classic board game. 

My name is Lakota Vogel and I’m an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, born and raised on a ranch in South Dakota. I am also the executive director of Four Bands Community Fund, a 22-year-old rural community lender that started by serving all residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota and expanded in 2013 to serve Native entrepreneurs across the entire state. 

Our collective goal is to overcome the economic inequities that Native American individuals, families, and entrepreneurs face on the Cheyenne River Reservation and throughout the state of South Dakota. About three-quarters of our clients are low-, very low-, and extremely low-income, and more than 90% are of Native American descent. In addition, the majority of our clients are female heads of household (64%) or business owners (57%). 

Our clients are local and our team is deeply entrenched in the communities we serve. We run into our clients in the grocery store. We sit on the daycare board of directors, desperately trying to keep these vital programs running. We know what our communities need because we are the communities we serve. 

One of the lessons Four Bands has learned time and time again is that “how you perceive is how you proceed.” Even while traditional financial providers see deep risk in lending to Native American communities, we perceive  opportunity. We are confident that our success as nation builders is intricately woven into the success of our neighbor. We proceed accordingly, making loans that mainstream financial institutions won’t touch. 

Our success has been consistent and expansive. In 2021, a time marked by severe economic and health insecurity, Four Bands broke its personal record with an annual loan deployment of $5.5 million while maintaining a 1% delinquency rate within our portfolio. We made more investments to Native communities in the era of Covid-related cash flow disruptions and made sure that only 1% of our loans went unpaid. 

That means 99% of our loans were fully performing. Even though we’re consistently written off by mainstream finance. 


We reject the misperception and overvaluation of rugged individualism as a key economic driver. Instead, we see how a community strengthened by funding a small restaurant in a town of 400 people. We invest in relationships and are rewriting the narrative on risk. 

We underwrite to the success of our communities and have been rewarded by a well-performing loan portfolio. 

Despite our success in breaking down barriers to effective financing, today’s Native communities are still stuck on the Monopoly board. 

Many of us have played Monopoly at one time or another in our lives. I’m sure it was during a blizzard or some other catastrophic event . . . like Thanksgiving, when you’re forced to spend time with your relatives. 

It’s a game in which you embrace your inner capitalist and develop a thirst for heartlessly bankrupting your family members. 

What’s not to love? 

So now imagine you arrive late to Thanksgiving and all your cousins have already started play without you. As you scan the board to see what properties are left, you discover all the prime properties are bought up. 

The monopolized board is exactly where modern-day Native economies started from. All our economic infrastructure was wiped off the board during this country’s era of colonization. 

A few centuries later, we were finally invited to play. Of course, by that point, all the cards had been dealt, the rules had been written, and the best properties were already purchased. 

After lengthy negotiations, they eventually gave us back Baltic Avenue, that tiny little property on the corner that doesn’t amount to much. 

It’s not enough. 

That’s why my work is to invest money into the Baltic Avenues of South Dakota and all the individuals who step onto this monopolized board with courage. 

The team at Four Bands realizes that capital will never solve poverty. 

But rewriting the rules will

So we’ll continue examining our perception of risk while ignoring the naysayers. 

Because no one got anywhere by believing the cynics. 

So go ahead. Step onto the board with courage. We’ll high-five as we go around the board together. 

Lakota Vogel is the executive director at Four Bands. In this role, Lakota provides leadership for the community loan fund, establishes new and fosters existing partnerships, and leads and manages efforts to reach organizational goals.