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From September 14, 2017 edition of The Circle – Native American News and Arts

By Lee Egerstrom

An unusual finance company based in the St. Paul, Minn. suburb of Little Canada is playing a big role in helping tribes repurchase ancestral lands that should never have been sold or taken away. The Indian Land Capital Co.  (ILCC) is legally a for-profit venture owned by two nonprofit organizations, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation in Little Canada and the Native American Community Development Corp. of Browning, Mont.

There are a variety of legal reasons why the ILCC is incorporated that way, said Rjay Brunkow, chief executive officer. But mostly, it allows ILCC to work with commercial banks and other lenders to allow creative financing packages for tribes that aren’t secured by land collateral. “This has always been a problem for sovereign nations,” Brunkow said. “Lenders always want collateral supporting the loan. It takes some ‘getting used to’ for banks to recognize the full faith and credit (pledge) of sovereign nations.”

Founded in 2005, ILCC has helped tribes finance 17 land acquisition projects. The purchases have been in a dozen states but California is a major client base for ILCC activity. That comes from California’s large number of small Rancherias (reservations) and California Natives’ peculiar experiences with federal laws that disbanded the tribes and later restored federal recognition. Some ILCC loan have been small purchases of a few acres within reservation boundaries or a nearby mountain that has cultural importance but no economic value to a tribe. Others have been large purchases such as the 22,237 acres of timberland in 2011 that doubled the size of the Yurok Tribe at Klamath, Calif.

Land repurchases to date are important both economically and culturally but are a mere pittance of the 90 million acres pulled away legally and illegally from sovereign tribes, Brunkow said. The most recent ILCC financed land purchase was two months ago when the Pinoleville Pomo Nation at Ukiah, Calif., acquired 9.3 acres of its original Rancheria land with a $2.7 million loan.  “We couldn’t have done this without Rjay’s and the land company’s help,” said Leona Williams, the tribal chairperson.

The reacquired land was split between 8.8 acres of commercial property and 3.5 acres that Williams described as “cultural heritage land.” All of the property, however, is significant for the Pinoleville Pomo citizens and for members of 16 other Rancherias in California, she said. Part of the land formerly belong to Tillie Hardwick, a tribal member who challenged a 1958 federal law that resulted in terminating the California Rancherias in 1966. In winning that 1979 case, tribal status was returned to the Rancherias and their members regained federal recognition as American Indians. “We really wanted to save this land but we didn’t have the means,” Williams said. “Then, an attorney we knew from Colorado suggested we find out if that group (ILCC) in Minnesota could help. It seemed to be too good to be true, but it was true.”

Small and less economically successful tribal nations like the Pinoleville Pomo make the primary client base for ILCC financing and originated loans with other partners. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community “really don’t need our help,” he said, and they have all the internal expertise they need to work financing and business ventures.

Meanwhile, Brunkow said the capital company is gaining access to participating lenders with each passing land deal. The track record with tribes is what does it. “We’ve never had a tribal client default on a loan,” he said.

That would impress bankers. Brunkow would know. Brunkow, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, is a former investment banker specializing in Indian Country business for Wells Fargo. He has a business economics degree from South Dakota State University and a law degree from the University of Minnesota. Before joining ILCC two years ago, Brunkow had previously served as solicitor general for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and as chief legal counsel for the Turtle Mountain Band.

One reason for the success of ILCC’s loans is that Brunkow and his predecessors serve as the loan originators when bringing other participants in on the loans. “When we know Indian Country, we know what will be done with the land and we know the politics, the culture of a tribe, that tells us the tribe will follow through on obligations,” he said. That isn’t significantly different from other banking and lending practices. “What we are looking for is stability,” he added.

ILCC is housed at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation office in Little Canada. It also gets staff help from the parent organization. While the Foundation, with its 76 percent stake in the company, and its Native American Community Development Corp. partner could be taking profits out of the for-profit lending institution, it doesn’t. And it won’t, explains Chris Stainbrook (Oglala Lakota), president of the Foundation and board chair for ILCC. “ILCC was formed as a for-profit company to demonstrate to outside lenders that tribes are good credit risks and full-faith-in-credit lending to the tribes could work. It was not formed for the two non-profit owners to be supported by ILCC profits,” he said. “ILTF and NACDC will not take a single nickel out of ILCC until the 90 million acres of lost reservation lands are returned to Indian ownership, management and control,” he added.

That shows the magnitude of the work remaining for the capital company and its parents.





August 17, 2017

Little Canada, Minn. – Sunrise Banks, an innovative leader in the financial services industry based in St. Paul, Minn., recently invested $900,000 with the Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC), which provides financing for Native American tribes to acquire, develop and secure tribal land for economic development and cultural preservation. Sunrise is a family owned national chartered bank that strives for financial inclusion for all, and provides socially responsible financial products and services.

“Sunrise Banks is a great community partner, and we are pleased that they believe in the future of Indian Country as much as we do,” said Rjay Brunkow, CEO of ILCC, a Native-owned and operated business. “Their investment will be part of our lending pool that enables Native nations to purchase land and develop their economies.”

Unlike traditional lending institutions, ILCC makes loans to Native nations on a full-faith-and-credit basis. As such, ILCC does not require land to be used as collateral for the loan but rather encumbers alternative streams of income, including business or land revenue. This enables tribes to process land purchases more quickly and efficiently, and avoid costly legal fees. “We support tribal sovereignty, and recognize the importance of land to Indian people,” Brunkow said. “As a result, we are able to create customized, flexible loan packages that suit the specific needs of the tribe and the unique circumstances of the purchase.”

Much like ILCC, Sunrise Banks is a socially responsible, mission-driven enterprise that is meeting the needs of the underserved. “Sunrise is committed to partnering with innovative organizations that understand the needs of the communities they serve,” said David Reiling, Sunrise Banks CEO. “Indian Land Capital Company is uniquely positioned to help Native American tribes achieve their goals, and we are pleased to support the important work that they do.”


Sunrise Banks, N.A., based in St. Paul, Minn., seeks to radically change the way urban communities and underserved people thrive by empowering them to achieve their aspirations. Sunrise is certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a designation earned by approximately 100 banks nationwide. Sunrise Banks is also a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and is a certified B Corp for its demonstrated commitment to transparent corporate governance and positive community impact. (





July 24, 2017

Little Canada, Minn. – The Pinoleville Pomo Nation of Ukiah, Calif., recently reacquired two significant parcels of its ancestral land, thanks to financing from the Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC). The $2.7 million in loans enabled the tribe to purchase 9.3 acres within the boundaries of its original 1911 Rancheria – 3.5 acres of culturally important land along with 8.8 acres of valuable commercial property. “This ancestral land has tremendous historical significance for the Tribe,” said Tribal Chairperson Leona Williams. “Being able to reacquire the property means so much to our people.”

The 3.5-acre historic property was once owned by Tribal member Tillie Hardwick, whose family had resided in the area for generations. In 1958, Congress passed a law that terminated the Rancheria, causing the Pomo to lose federal tribal status. In 1979, Hardwick filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the legality of the termination. Hardwick’s legal action led to the restoration of tribal status for 17 California rancherias, along with recognition of individual tribal members as American Indians.

Based in Minnesota, Indian Land Capital Company provides alternative loan options to Native nations for tribal land acquisition projects.  “As a Native-owned and operated business, we understand the needs of Indian tribes,” said ILCC Chief Executive Officer Rjay Brunkow, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. “We understand and support tribal sovereignty, and recognize the importance of land to Indian people. As a result, we are able to create customized, flexible loan packages that suit the specific needs of the tribe and the unique circumstances of the purchase.”

Unlike traditional lending institutions, ILCC makes loans to Native nations on a full-faith-and-credit basis. As such, ILCC does not require land to be used as collateral for the loan but rather encumbers alternative streams of income, including business or land revenue. “This enables tribes to process land purchases more quickly and efficiently, and avoid costly legal fees,” Brunkow said.

The 8.8-acre commercial property purchased by the Pinoleville Pomo Nation is the site of a former car dealership in Ukiah, located approximately 140 miles north of San Francisco. The Tribe had been leasing the property for five years for its business enterprises. Thanks to the loan from ILCC, the Tribe now owns the land and plans to construct a large gaming facility.

“We are grateful to ILCC for providing the financing to purchase both parcels of land,” said Chairperson Williams. “We will now be able to move forward with our economic development plans, which will help to secure the future of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation and our members.” 





From June 2016 edition of Tribal Business Journal

By Levi Rickert

Rjay Brunkow (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) enjoys what he does. As CEO of Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC), he provides money to tribes for economic development through loans. “There is nothing more satisfying than going home and knowing you have made a difference in Indian Country,” says Brunkow, who took the reins at ILCC in September 2015. “When I began a finance career working in Indian Country for Wells Fargo, then went on to work for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian tribes, I found satisfaction. Now I have found a sense of purpose by making loans to tribes.”

Prior to working in Indian Country, Brunkow graduated with honors from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in business economics, and earned his J.D. (cum laude) from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Founded in 2005, ILCC is a certified Native American Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) based in Little Canada, Minn., that provides financing to American Indian tribes for land acquisition and economic development. It was formed as a collaborative effort between the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the Native American Community Development Corporation of Browning, Mont., under the leadership of the late Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet) and Cris Stainbrook (Oglala Lakota), both strong advocates of tribal land acquisition.

Given the long history of American Indian Tribes losing land, ILCC plays a vital role when it comes to land acquisition. During the last several years, ILCC has provided financing so tribes can acquire land for a variety of reasons. From facilitating the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians’ purchase of 312 acres of land for organic farming in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, to assisting the Yurok Tribe in California obtain valuable lots of land for elder housing, ILCC helps tribes regain control over their assets, especially land, in order to promote tribal sovereignty, economies and culture. One of ILCC’s recent loans in particular gave Brunkow a real sense of pride: “We were able to help the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in California purchase back land that the tribe lost 150 years ago,” he says. “The Tribe was ecstatic it was able to recover land it lost so long ago.”

“The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians has come full circle, once again regaining ownership of our coastal land,” says Tribal Chairman Reno Keoni Franklin. “We are proud owners of the Kashia Coastal Reserve, an environmentally protected property along the Northern California coast. It would not have been possible without the assistance of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation or the Indian Land Capital Company. Not only did they play a major financial role in our acquisition of the property, they also provided valuable advice and were a strong voice of empowerment when we doubted if we could complete the purchase.”

ILCC is unique in its lending practices in that it does not collateralize the land like other lending institutions; instead, it works out other ways to collateralize loans through other income sources of tribes. “In all the years we have operated, we have never had a default,” says Brunkow. “It is often difficult for tribes to obtain loans for land because many lending institutions are not familiar with Indian Country and what it means when land goes into trust by the federal government. We have an 11-year history of making loans. We know what we are doing. We think investing in Indian Country is a great investment.”

While ILCC began as a lending institution for tribes to acquire land, the company has expanded to finance other types of tribal projects. Some of the projects ILCC has funded include tribal administration buildings, strip malls on tribal lands and a tribal waste treatment plant. Brunkow says ILCC does not provide funding for gaming-related projects. Currently, ILCC provides loans to tribes in the $1.5 million to $2 million range. It has streamlined its process and tries to make it easy for tribes to get financing in an expedient timeframe. A tribe has to present its business plan and three years of audited financial statements. “We want a current snapshot of what is happening financially and we can move quickly,” Brunkow says. “Our turnaround time for a decision can usually come in less than a week.”

During Brunkow’s tenure, he wants to see ILCC grow in the number of loans it makes to tribes and even expand its service area. The company has yet to make a loan in Alaska, where over 200 tribes are located, and Brunkow would welcome an opportunity to provide financing to tribes there. “I see tremendous growth for Indian Land Capital Company,” Brunkow says. “It has a great history, and I see no reason that it should not be the first on the mind of tribal leaders when seeking a loan.”





Sept. 17, 2015

Little Canada, Minn. – After a rigorous selection process, the Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC) Board of Directors has announced that Mr. Rjay Brunkow has been appointed CEO of the firm. Brunkow takes over the helm at a time of high lending activity and demand. “Rjay brings a set of skills and attitude to the work that will help us build on the momentum that has been created. He started a month ago and he has already issued two loans to tribes for more than $2 million and started seeking more lending capital,” says Cris Stainbrook, ILCC board chair. “The Board believes Mr. Brunkow can take ILCC to the next several levels and his fast start is indicative of that.”

Founded in 2005 as a collaborative effort between Indian Land Tenure Foundation of Little Canada, Minn., and the Native American Community Development Corporation of Browning, Mont., ILCC is an American Indian owned and managed Native Community Development Financial Institution  (Native CDFI) that has made a name for itself as a national lender to tribes.

“ILCC’s mission is to help Tribes regain control over their assets, especially land, in order to promote tribal sovereignty, economies, and culture,” said Stainbrook. “ILCC uniquely honors tribal sovereignty through its full faith and credit lending to Native Nations.”

Brunkow, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, comes to ILCC with a wealth of experience in Indian Country. Brunkow has previously served as an Investment Banker with a focus on government infrastructure in Indian Country.  He has also served as Solicitor General for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and as Chief Legal Counsel for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. He has an extensive background in gaming and non‐gaming economic development projects within Indian Country. Brunkow earned his Bachelor of Science (with Honor) in Business Economics from South Dakota State University and his Juris Doctorate (Cum Laude) from the University of Minnesota Law School.

“I see this as an exciting opportunity to grow a new lending model in Indian Country – one that recognizes tribal sovereignty, does not require land as collateral and engages with the Native nation to find a financing package that works for them,” Brunkow said. “I am very excited to be part of this effort.”

Since inception, ILCC has made a total of more than $14 million in loans to 15 Native nations aiding in the recovery of approximately 35,300 acres to Indian ownership, management and control. The recovered lands have allowed for the acquisition and expansion of a health care facility, tribal resort, and an electric co‐generation plant, construction of homes for tribal members, management of sustainable forests, restoration of wetlands, and protection of sacred and cultural sites.

For additional information regarding ILCC, please contact Rjay Brunkow at or 651‐444‐5759. Cris Stainbrook can be contacted at or 651‐766‐8999.






Jan. 15, 2014

Little Canada, Minn. –  An enterprising Michigan Tribe has tapped Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC) to finance a Tribal community farming project. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan has secured a $749,000 loan from ILCC to expand tribal lands, pursue agricultural projects, and promote the health and welfare of the Tribe. ILCC, a Native American owned and managed Native Community Development Financial Institution (NCDFI) based in Minnesota, developed an innovative financial agreement to help the 4,570-member Tribe in northern Michigan to purchase a former operating farm located adjacent to the traditional boundaries of the reservation. The site, which includes 311 acres of land, a house, barn, and outbuildings, will significantly advance the Tribe’s goal of promoting smaller family/ community gardens near where tribal citizens live, seed gathering and collection, and tribal gardening/farming operations that are certified organic and potential revenue sources from the sale of excess production.Land is especially significant to the Tribe that, despite numerous treaties promising both formal tribal status and Reservation land, was disenfranchised and dispossessed as a result of negligent federal policies that eventually eroded the entire tribal land base. The Tribe’s federal status was reaffirmed again only in 1994. Since then the Tribe has regained 848 acres of trust land in its aboriginal homeland, including the land on which the current Odawa Casino Resort, Tribal Administrative Buildings, Odawa Fisheries, Biindigen Gas Station, and proposed Mackinaw City Project are located.

“More than half of our tribal citizens live on or near our Tribe’s ancestral lands. These additional farm lands will help promote the general welfare and health of the Tribe by yielding quality foodstuffs for our people as well as a reconnection to our land,” said Tribal Legislative Leader Regina Gasco Bentley. “The ILCC loan provides both financial flexibility and strong commitment to tribal sovereignty, factors critical to our Tribe and project.”

ILCC provides flexible financing to strengthen Native communities and cultures through tribal land acquisition. The Native Company serves market niches underserved by traditional financial institutions, promotes community development, and provides technical support in conjunction with its financial activities. It lends on the “full faith and credit” of each individual sovereign Indian nation without requiring land to be used as collateral. Lending decisions are based on the full picture of a tribe’s financial condition, borrowing track record, and ability to make loan payments, eliminating the need for much of the costly and time-consuming measures required by traditional lenders to secure land and other assets as collateral for tribal loans.

“We were impressed by the Tribe’s high level of competence, commitment, and visionary leadership,” said Gerald Sherman, ILCC President and CEO. “We’re delighted to be partners in this exciting endeavor.”






Oct. 10, 2012

Little Canada, Minn. –  Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC), an American Indian Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) specializing in financing tribes for land purchases, announced today that Wells Fargo has renewed its $750,000 investment to the capital loan pool. The loan was originally granted in 2006 to Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) which, along with Native American Community Development Corporation (NACDC), created ILCC as a collaborative effort in 2005. “As the first financial institution to invest in ILCC, Wells Fargo is pleased to renew this funding in support of ILCC’s work to promote community and economic development on tribal land,” said Megan Teare, Wells Fargo Community Lending and Investment. “We are proud to assist in the expansion of ILCC’s efforts and we look forward to seeing the positive impact from projects this investment helps fund in the years ahead.”

The loan renewal allows ILCC to continue investing the resources in tribal land recovery and community-based development projects for the next seven years. In September, using its current pool of funds, ILCC was able to loan Rosebud Sioux Tribe $900,000 for the earnest money to secure the $9 million purchase of the sacred site Pe’ Sla. Considered by the Lakota Nation to be one of its most holy sites, Pe’ Sla comprises 1,942 acres of land in the Black Hills that was privately owned by the Reynolds family, whose ancestors acquired the land in 1876. “We are truly grateful for Wells Fargo’s ongoing support of ILCC and their commitment to Indian Country,” said Gerald Sherman, ILCC president. “Having these and other resources available allowed us to act fast in order to help the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to secure a deal to purchase these sacred lands that otherwise would have been sold at auction to the highest bidder.”

Unlike most traditional lenders, ILCC does not require land to be used as collateral for a loan, but relies on the “full faith and credit” of the Indian nation. This approach is more appropriate for lending to sovereign nations and eliminates the need for much of the costly and time-consuming measures required by traditional lenders to secure land and other assets as collateral. Most importantly, the land ownership is not at risk going forward.

While the earnest money made it possible for the participating tribes to secure a deal to purchase Pe’ Sla, the sale will not be final until November 30, 2012 and several of the details regarding the remaining $8.1 million in financing and cooperative land management have yet to be released. In addition to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, several other Great Sioux Nation member tribes have made commitments to contribute funds for the land purchase. “Returning these sacred lands to Indian control is a major victory for the Great Sioux Nation, which never agreed to the sale of Pe’ Sla or any of the Black Hills in the first place. In essence, this was a purchase of the Reynolds family’s use rights, not land,” said Cris Stainbrook, ILTF president. “This sends a strong message that we can and will work together to recover and protect what’s rightfully ours.”

Other projects made possible through ILCC financing have included construction of elder housing and homes for tribal members, sustainable forest management, wetland restoration and protection of sacred and cultural sites. In August 2012, ILCC received a $725,000 Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI) grant awarded by the Native American CDFI Assistance (NACA) program. This was the second year in a row ILCC received this grant, the highest tier financial award given by the Treasury Department’s CDFI Fund. Since inception, ILCC has made nearly $7 million in loans to Indian nations, and has assisted in the recovery of approximately 30,000 acres of tribal land. ILCC’s long term goal is to substantially increase its loan pool and its capacity to make more and larger loans. In 2011, ILCC launched a campaign to raise $4 million in the first year with the goal of building a $100 million investment fund for Indian Country over the next 10 years.





From Eureka Times-Standard newspaper

April 15, 2011

The Yurok Tribe and Green Diamond Resource Co. finalized the purchase of 22,237 acres Thursday, doubling the tribe’s land base. The purchase is part of the tribe’s efforts to re-establish indigenous territory along the lower Klamath River. “The Tribe has long sought the return of ancestral land to create a salmon sanctuary and restore tribal cultural management practices, which benefit fish, wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said in a press release.

Green Diamond Resource Co. Vice President and General Manager Neal Ewald said the purchase is a culmination of almost 23 years of collaboration between the tribe and the timber company, which began with the establishment of the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988. The act recognized some of the inequities between the two neighboring tribes and included sections within the act that attempted to redress the disparities, and include limited transfers of forest service land. “Our company is proud of our role in partnering with the Yurok and Western Rivers Conservancy to see this landscape moved into the tribe’s stewardship,” Ewald said in the release.

The land, more than 34 square miles, will become a Yurok Tribal Community Forest. The tribe said it will apply a sustainable forest management approach to the forest, protecting salmon, improving water quality and restoring meadows that traditionally supported subsistence hunting and gathering. Additionally, the tribe plans to further enhance three tributaries to the lower Klamath River that flow through the property: Pecwan, Ke’pel and Weitchpec Creeks. These creeks provide vital cold water and spawning grounds for the many Klamath fish species. The Yurok Tribe worked with the Western Rivers Conservancy to complete the purchase. “This is an historic accomplishment to ensure clean, cold water for the Klamath River’s salmon runs while re-establishing a portion of the Yurok’s homeland,” Phillip Wallin, the president of Western Rivers Conservancy, said in the release.

This land purchase is the first phase of the tribe’s plans for the community forest. The tribe’s future efforts also include plans for another possible land acquisition of nearly 25,000 acres from Green Diamond, and lobbying for the transfer of 1,200 acres on either side of the mouth of the Klamath River from the federal government.