Spring 2019 Journal: An Analysis of Government Dependency and Tribal Economic Performance

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This article is the seventh (and last) article featured in our Spring 2019 journal. For the complete journal, please see the “Current Issue” tab above.

By Mary Lindeblad-Fry

Edited By: Daniel Lao-Talens and Tim Tsai

With the advent of the Self-Determination Act of 1975, the objective of federal Indian policy changed from fostering dependency on the federal government to promoting tribal political and economic autonomy. Bureau of Indian Affairs policies in the era of ‘self-determination’ purportedly promote greater freedom and flexibility for tribes to enact and implement programs that escape the “one-size-fits-all” policies of the past. This paper examines whether these newer policies achieved their stated objective of improving economic prosperity among the tribes who chose to adopt them. Specifically, this study hypothesizes that American Indian Areas (AIAs) more dependent on the federal government experienced higher levels of unemployment and poverty. Dependency on the federal government is measured by the proportion tribe members employed by the federal government, the presence of a casino or on-reservation gaming, and whether the tribe manages their own healthcare systems or yields control to the federal government.

The limited availability of data and the focus on only several markers of dependency fundamentally constrains the depth of analysis that is available, and that this paper provides a jumping-off point for a subject that necessitates further examination.

Introduction  and the Impact of Self-Determination

While contemporary federal Indian policy has endured many different manifestations, the underlying basis of the relationship between tribes and the federal government is defined by the concept of ‘trust responsibility,’ when tribes were designated as  “domestic dependent nations” [1]. Despite the many changes and opportunities now granted to American Indian tribes, this relationship still influences the federal government’s treatment of American Indian tribes today.

Scholars have varying opinions regarding how to characterize federal Indian policy of the 20th century. According to some scholars, despite the outward appearance of furthering self-determination and strengthening tribal governments, the undercurrent running through the policy and case law of the twentieth century is still assimilation [2]. Under the present policy of self-determination, which resulted from the passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, tribes “are subject to federal law, but operate under their own constitutions, administer their own judicial systems, and implement self-managed tax and regulatory regimes … tribes in the current era of self-determination expect and demand government-to-government relations” [3].

The 1960s through 1970s was a period of political mobilization and an era of self-determination during which federal policies served to encourage rather than impede tribal autonomy. Under the present policy of self-determination, which resulted from the passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, tribes “are subject to federal law, but operate under their own constitutions, administer their own judicial systems, and implement self-managed tax and regulatory regimes … tribes in the current era of self-determination expect and demand government-to-government relations … the jurisdictional powers of tribes are quite parallel with those of the 50 U.S. states” [4].

Governmental policies had the goal of recognizing the Indian nations as self-governing and sovereign. Unfortunately, the policies conflicted with the federal government’s overriding policy goal of resource acquisition. Self-determination policies caused significant conflict for Indian tribes because the federal government acknowledged Indian Nations as sovereign entities while simultaneously attempting to acquire all available resources for “use and employment in the economy of the United States,” as is the doctrine of Manifest Destiny [5]. Therefore, contemporary federal Indian policy has simultaneously reinforced the basis of tribal sovereignty while undermining tribal access to political and economic resources. As a result, these policies “produced results that fell well short of their aim” [6].

Despite their imperfections, there is evidence that self-determination policies are effective in improving economic conditions on many reservations. The per-capita income of American Indians on reservations has been growing approximately three times more rapidly than the United States as a whole since the early 1990s [7]. Housing is improving, education attainment through high school is approaching parity with the U.S. average, health measures such as infant mortality, deaths due to accident, and infectious disease rates show noted improvement [8]. However, it is unlikely that the infusion of resources from the federal government is responsible, since federal spending on Indian affairs peaked in the mid-1970s [9]. Evidence shows that self-determination policies drove this notable improvement. Furthermore, studies find that increased economic performance ”is positively correlated with natural measures of lack of cultural assimilation, such as rates of Native language use” [10].

This paper examines the impact of this present era of self-determination — in which federal policies are purported to increase rather than impede tribal autonomy — on economic prosperity to determine whether the erosion of the federal stranglehold on tribal sovereignty has led to any improvement in the quality of life for American Indians living on reservations. This paper argues that present models of underdevelopment are inadequate for addressing the unique economic situation of Indian reservations.

I wish to avoid the Western industrial bias of the assimilationist, modernization, and colonialist paradigms (as described in the subsequent section) because they have not been able to adequately explain the vast differences in economic success between these tribes. Instead, I focus on possible explanations other than those offered by classic neoliberal theory [11].

Dependency Theory

This paper explores the puzzling question of why some tribes are economically prosperous while other tribes struggle by examining every federally recognized tribal entity in the United States on a number of various measures. The analysis defines ‘economically prosperous’ in terms of unemployment rate and rate of poverty for each federally-designated American Indian reservation and Alaskan Native village. These measures will serve as dependent variables. The analysis  framework is based on dependency theory, defined by Theotonio Dos Santos:

By dependency we mean a situation in which the economy of certain countries is conditioned by the development and expansion  of another economy to which the former is subjected. The relation of interdependence between two or more economies, and between these and world trade, assume the form of dependence when some countries (the dominant ones) can expand and can be self-sustaining, while other countries (the dependent ones) can do this only as a reflection of that expansion, which can have either a positive or a negative effect on their immediate development [12].

Dependency theory postulates that colonized groups with greater institutional and financial independence from federal and state governments are likely to be more economically prosperous.

This paper does not address modernization or assimilation theory in its analytical model, however due to its prevalence in the available literature it is important to understand. Modernization theory is based on the implicit assumption that “the newly emerging nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin American would follow a linear path towards modern development” [13]. Development became prioritized as a national goal, due to the decolonization movement of the immediate post World War II period [14]. “Development” is aimed at universalizing Western-based development around the world for the purpose of encouraging capitalistic growth” [15]. Modernization relies on the distinction between two ideal-type societies — traditional and modern. Traditional societies are characterized by “subsistence economies; face-to-face social structures; cultural systems that emphasize heredity, devotion and mystery; and a highly personalized political system that is virtually an extension of the joint family [16]”. Modern societies are the exact opposite … they are characterized by “industrial economies; complex and impersonal social structures; a culture that emphasizes the values of science, knowledge and achievement; and a highly bureaucratized political system that is legitimized through rational processes, such as elections” [17]. The main difference between the societies “lies in the greater control which modern man has over his natural and social environment … control that is based on the expansion of scientific and technological knowledge” [18].

Modernization theory considers modernization a “homogenizing” and
“irreversible” process [19]. Until the mid-1960s, modernization theory represented the ‘grand theory’ of social science. Modernization theory predicted that tribal societies would inevitably undergo social and economic innovation by assimilating modern values [20]. The surrendering of traditional values and institutions to those of Western society serves as the key mechanism of modernization theory [21]. However, it has been found that indigenous cultures and values are actually key for sustaining successful development [22].

While the colonialism paradigm can be useful for understanding some aspects of chronic underdevelopment, it is not entirely adequate. However, it is important to understand how colonialist theory is conceptualized in this context. Scholars generally attribute the condition of dependency as a result of colonial domination, or colonialism. Colonialism traditionally refers to “the establishment of domination over a geographically-external political unit most often inhabited by people of a different race and culture” [23]. Accordingly, “the essence of the colonized situation is that a people has been conquered, the functioning of their culture and social structure disrupted and suppressed in some degree, and alien control imposed with such force that resistance is futile” [24].

According to a past assistant solicitor in the Department of the Interior in the 1930s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was responsible for perpetuating the colonial relationship. The relationship was understood to be the “white man’s burden” to take care of the Indians, since Indians were believed to be “inefficient, dishonest, wasteful, ignorant, selfish, impatient, and generally drunk …” [25]. One of this paper’s central research questions concerns the differences in economic success between tribes who manage their own programs versus tribes who choose to have their programs managed through the BIA.

Colonialism is theorized and interpreted in numerous ways. The colonial experience of American Indians is often compared to that of other colonized peoples. However, scholars have distinguished Indians from colonized peoples in third world countries primarily because of the general lack of the labor relationship between the American Indians and the European colonizers. Canadian and American Indian land bases were not established to function as labor pools for Euro-American industry, mining or agriculture. Indian labor exploitation never represented a major facet of the internal-colonial structure [26]. Also, capitalism is often described as counter to ‘traditional’ American Indian values. Therefore, tribes “could not attain economic success because ‘capitalist development [of the United States] inevitably entails expropriation and exploitation” [27].

Therefore, colonial models, while useful for explaining the role of the principal colonial agent — in this case the BIA — are not useful for analyzing dynamics within reservation communities [28]. As a result, I prefer to focus on dependency models, which could be considered a more focused subset of the colonial models previously described.

Dependency theory, developed in reaction to modernization theory, proposes that the causes of underdevelopment are located within a country [29]. Dependency theorists argue that the actions of Western countries which “extracted raw materials, labor, and other inputs from colonial countries” effectively placed colonies in a state of dependency [30].

Theorists account for and measure the resultant condition of dependency in various ways. In order to better understand to dynamics of dependency on the reservation, it is useful to borrow from international development research. International development scholars have found that foreign investment stunts economic development in the long run [31]. For third-world countries, investment dependence has negative effects on economic development [32]. The formation of domestic capital for poor countries is hindered by debt dependence [33]. Similarly, tribes with health care programs administered by the federal government are more likely to default on their loans with the BIA subsidized loan program, which further reinforces the connection between debt dependence and lack of development [34].

The dependency model has expanded to account for the poor economic conditions of American Indian tribes. The dependency model is so valuable because it combines both the external aspects of the colonial relation and the more insidious internal dynamics of dependency [35]. Tribal fragmentation — resulting from the barrier between the elite tribal officials (who effectively control access to political and economic decision-making) and the non-elite members of the community — is cited as a significant reason for underdevelopment. However, this theory is partially negated by the existence of highly effective tribal elites who have led their own tribes in successful economic pursuits [36].

Resource dependency combines internal colonization theory with Weber’s “domination by authority,” thereby making ‘dependent’ populations more vulnerable to factors that affect resource levels and various shifts in the balance of power [37]. Tribes are desperate to escape dependency. This desperation serves as the catalyst for engaging within the dominant political structure in order to allow for the creation of “economic environments that will allow them to provide for their citizens’ well-being without depending on regulatory advantages that are vulnerable to attacks in Congress and state legislatures or on resource extraction” [38].

The Impact of Gaming on Dependency 

There are over 310 gaming operations run by more than 200 tribes in the U.S. Of these operations, about 220 are “Las Vegas” style casinos with class III gaming activities [39]. Millions of non-Native Americans, who presumably know little about economic development on Indian reservations, visit Indian casinos every year and thereby contribute to an enormously important American Indian economic enterprise. With the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, many American Indian tribes introduced gaming on their respective reservations, gaining an enormous influx of revenue and effectively strengthening their economic authority and power as a sovereign nation. The increase in revenue that accompanied the introduction of gaming on reservations served as a way for tribes to reduce their dependence on federal and state governments for financial support. In this section, I explore the impact of gaming on tribal economic prosperity.

The manner in which tribes choose to spend their gaming revenue has significant economic and social consequences. Some tribal leaders fear the unintended negative consequences of dispensing per capita payments to individual tribal members. Specifically, they believe that per capita payments have the potential to encourage citizen dependence on tribal governments, thereby indirectly discouraging educational attainment [40]. Dependency on gaming revenues, while superior to dependency on the federal government, is also a precarious basis for revenue not only for individual tribal members but also for the tribe as a whole. There is a danger that tribes will simply transfer dependency from the government onto gaming. This fear has encouraged a number of tribes to invest gaming revenue in diversifying their economies [41]. But what is most surprising is that during the first decade after the passage of IGRA, household incomes actually grew more rapidly in Indian areas without gaming (33 percent) than in areas with gaming (24 percent) [42]. While gaming may be enormously profitable for some fortunate and well-organized tribes, the current trend underlying the economic development in Indian country is one of tribes working to create economic environments that will allow them to provide for their citizens’ well-being without depending on natural resources or gaming, which is subject to the volatile external political atmosphere [43].

Dependency Hypotheses

I hypothesize that tribes with greater institutional and financial independence from federal and state governments are likelier to have a higher unemployment rate and rate of poverty. I assessed the level of dependence on the federal government using a number of measures. I include the absence of a gaming compact, and therefore the inability to have gaming as a source of reservation revenue. I hypothesize that tribes without gaming compacts will have overall higher rates of unemployment and poverty, due to the absence of gaming as an independent revenue source. I also used the percentage of the population employed by the state, local, or federal government relative to other sectors of the economy. Within the dependency framework, one would expect that as the percentage of the civilian labor force employed by the government increases relative to the other industries, there would be a higher overall rate of poverty and unemployment. That negative relationship between government employment and overall economic prosperity is because the presence of the government as a large employer is reflective of dependence on the state, and a higher percentage of the labor force employed by the government means that there is less individual incentive and ability for tribal members to cultivate financial and institutional independence from the government. According to the dependency hypothesis, a large federal government presence is likely to contribute to suppression of any attempt at strengthening the governmental status of tribes.

I have included the level of tribal health care autonomy as another indicator of dependence. Tribes can be grouped into three levels of health care autonomy, with ‘compacting’ tribes participating in the self-governance compact with the United States and therefore maintaining the greatest degree of autonomy over their health care system [44]. Contracting tribes maintain a moderate degree of indigenous control, and operate at least one outpatient clinic through a Title I contract under Public Law 93-638. Tribes with direct service have the lowest level of control. With the ‘direct service’ model, BIA employees or other federal administrators manage the programs.

Compacting shifts the responsibility for managing health care to the tribe and allows the tribe to develop its own health plan [45]. The National Indian Health Board finds that measures of patient satisfaction improve markedly under contracting and compacting relative to federal Indian Health Service management, which is the ‘direct service’ form of health care. According to the most current research conducted on the impacts of these policies, under self-governance compacting, 86 percent of programs report that waiting times improved upon tribal assumption of management responsibility [46]. I predict that tribes with the compacting form of health care will experience a lower rate of poverty and unemployment than tribes with contracting or direct service.

Data and Methods 

I have used information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) 2012-2016 5-year estimates. I also used the National Indian Gaming Commission list of tribal gaming compacts for the construction of my gaming variable. I used information obtained from the Indian Health Services Agency staff to construct the health care autonomy variable. I only included tribes who either had obtained a Self-Governance compact with the Office of Tribal Self-Governance through their own tribe, or were part of a consortium of small tribes who applied to be funded under one agreement.

Method of Analysis

I imposed a selection criterion of a total population of at least 100 in order to avoid the possibility that cases representing very low-density areas will disproportionately influence the regression results. Additionally, due to the complex and unique relationship of Alaskan Native villages to the federal government, I removed them from the analysis. Although Alaskan Native groups endured a similar historical treatment as American Indians, they are not provided with the same sovereign status as federally-recognized tribes in the lower contiguous 48 states [47]. These actions brought the total sample from 350 to 269 cases. I used OLS (ordinary least squares) regression techniques to measure the rate of poverty and rate of unemployment against the chosen factors [48].


  1. Dependent Variables

    The dependent variables are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s  ACS 2012-2016 5-Year Estimates. My first dependent variable for measuring economic prosperity is poverty rate, which is the percentage of the population for whom poverty status is determined. My second dependent variable is the unemployment rate, which is the percent of the civilian labor force that is unemployed. Table 1 shows descriptive statistics for the dependent variables.
    Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Poverty Rate and Unemployment Rate [49]. Source: United States Census Bureau (2017).
    Table 1 shows that on average, most cases deviate within 9.02% of the mean unemployment rate, which is 15.66%. Most tribes are within 12.4% of the mean poverty rate, which is 28.54%. Both are considerably higher than the average rates of poverty and unemployment in the United States, which were 12.3% and 4.7% in 2016, respectively [50].
  2. Independent VariablesThe independent variables in my analysis were chosen in consideration of the issues described in the literature as central components of economic development.

Control Model

The goal of the control model is to identify the most obvious factors that might contribute to poverty and unemployment rates. Controlling for these factors holds these variables constant and allows for the isolation of the effects of the explanatory variables.

I measured human capital using educational attainment, defined as the percentage of the population over the age of 25 that graduated from high school. I included this measure due to the enormous disparity between the American Indian/Alaskan Native population and the general population: according to the 2016 ACS Estimates, 79 percent of American Indians and Alaskan Natives 25 and older had at least a high school education, and 14.5 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives had at least a bachelor’s degree [51]. I controlled for the percentage of the population over the age of 60 in order to account for the potentially negative  impact of the elderly population on economic autonomy.

Table 2: Means, Standard Deviations and Predicted Impact of Independent Variables. Source: Author’s model using ACS (2017) data.

Dependency Model

This theoretical model is designed to test the hypothesis that tribes with greater institutional and financial independence from federal and state governments are likelier to have lower rates of both poverty and unemployment. The first measure of dependency in my analysis is the percentage of the population employed by the local, state, or federal government. This variable is the only continuous variable in this model.

While data regarding most indicators of financial independence on reservations is hard to come by, information regarding tribal gaming compacts is readily available. From this information, provided by the National Indian Gaming Commission, I constructed a dichotomous categorical variable, made into a dummy variable that specifies the presence or absence of the given measure. In this case, the variable indicates the absence of tribal Class II or Class III gaming compacts. The possession of gaming compacts allows for the construction of commercial gambling operations on federal trust land. Class II gaming means “chance” games, such as bingo. The Class III category signifies “Vegas-style” gaming, which includes slot machines and various card games. I constructed the variable as dichotomous to indicate the possession of a gaming compact.

The measure for the ‘compacting’ form of health care was obtained directly from the Indian Health Services Office of Tribal Self-Governance. For these measures, I constructed a dichotomous dummy variable for participation in the Tribal Self-Governance Program, which means the presence of a Title V Compact. Recent data to indicate a ‘moderate’ level of control (Title I Contracting) was not available. Therefore, the excluded category in the dummy variable includes both Contracting and Direct Service tribal healthcare systems. Since the passage of the the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which authorized Title V Compacting, over 150 tribes have taken advantage of this program. In order to maintain temporal alignment of the different sources of data, I filtered out all compacts authorized subsequent to 2016. I constructed the variable as dichotomous, to reflect the presence of a Title V Compact.  

Results and Discussion

In this section, I will present the results of the multiple regression analysis for both of the dependent variables. The table below presents the unstandardized coefficients and standard errors for each variable. The unstandardized coefficient signifies the change in the dependent variable for every one-unit change in the independent variable. Statistical significance is indicated with an asterisk next to the coefficient. The statistically significant results are described below each table.

Poverty Rate Regression Results and Discussion 

First, I test the strength of my control model for explaining the rate of poverty. Most of the variables in the control model are statistically significant at the 95 percent level (p<0.05). Total population size is the only measure that does not have a significant effect on poverty rate in each model.

Table 3: Poverty Rate Regression Results. ***p<0.001, **p<0.01, *p<0.05. Source: Author’s model using ACS (2017) data.

In the control model, two out of three variables are statistically significant with p<.001. The coefficient for educational attainment is -0.441 in the control model. As the percentage of the population (age 25+) with high school diplomas increases by 1 percentage point, the rate of poverty decreases by .558 percentage points. This relationship remains statistically significant in each model. Additionally, as the percentage of the population aged over 60 increases, the rate of poverty decreases by .5 percentage points. This relationship is statistically significant with p<.001 and is contrary to expectations.

Overall, the findings for the control model are mixed. The importance of human capital is reflected by the high degree of statistical significance in the effect of education with the inclusion of both models. The coefficient for the percentage of the population aged over 60 does slightly increase with the inclusion of the dependency model variables, however it remains statistically significant in the opposite direction of the expected findings.

Two out of four variables in the dependency model are statistically significant. The coefficient for the percentage employed in the government sector is 0.148, meaning a one-percentage-point increase in the total percent of the labor force employed by the government is associated with an increase in poverty by 0.148 percentage points. The relationship is highly statistically significant, with p<.001. This finding is consistent with expectations regarding the dependency hypotheses. Additionally, the presence of one or more gaming operations is associated with a 3.362 percentage point decrease in the rate of poverty. This relationship is significant at p<0.05, and is consistent with the expectations of the model. The coefficient for the compacting health care option is -0.23, but the relationship is not statistically significant.

The positive relationship between the percentage of the population employed by the state, federal, or local government and the rate of poverty demonstrates the salience of dependency theory in this analysis. This is because government employment is almost entirely dependent on the overall political context and is not a function of intra-tribal development.

Unemployment Rate Regression Results and Discussion 

In the model specifying unemployment rate as the outcome variable, three explanatory factors in the control model are statistically significant. Education attainment is associated with a .146 percentage point decrease in unemployment, and is statistically significant at p<.001. As the percentage of the population aged over 60 increases, the rate of unemployment decreases by approximately .3 percentage points. This relationship is statistically significant with p<.01 and is contrary to expectations, although the exclusion of those aged over 64 from the working-age population might explain the relationship.

Table 4: Unemployment Rate Regression Results. ***p<0.001, **p<0.01, *p<0.05. Note: OLS regression with unstandardized coefficients and standard errors for population size 100+ (restricted to cases without missing data). Source: Author’s model using ACS (2017) data.

Two out of three variables in the dependency model are statistically significant ( p<.001). The coefficient for the percentage employed in the government sector is .177 and the presence of gaming is associated with a 3.557 percentage point decrease in unemployment. This relationship is highly significant at p<.001, and is consistent with expectations.

The significant effect of the percentage of the population employed by the state, local, or federal government and rate of unemployment further reinforces how this particular form of dependency is detrimental to economic development on reservations. The fact that the percentage of employment in one sector is related to an increase in overall unemployment seems surprising, yet this particular form of employment is likely related to other indicators of dependency. For instance, it is possible that a tribe with a higher percentage of government employment is less likely to engage in opportunities to expand tribal autonomy. President John Yellow Bird Steele of the Oglala Sioux Tribe mentions the problems with relying on government employment due to scarcity of other opportunities: “people are interested in federal service jobs and not the goals, services, and roles of those jobs” [52]. A high proportion of governmental sector employment seems likely to hinder autonomous economic growth.


The lack of significant results for the presence of compacting health care is surprising. The decision made by tribal leaders to directly negotiate with the federal government in order to manage their own health care is reflective of a tribe that is effective in managing all of its programs. These programs and services are oftentimes directly and indirectly created for the purpose of decreasing or ameliorating the effects of poverty; education programs, housing, etc. It is important to note that the number of tribes participating in self-governance compacting has grown from 14 to more than 200 since the program’s inception in 1994. However, over 50 percent of tribal organizations taking part in the compacting process are part of a consortium with other tribes who are gathered under the same funding agreement. Therefore it could be worth further exploring potential differences between tribes who apply to take part in the IHS Tribal Self-Governance Program as individual entities, versus tribes who apply as part of a consortium. While contradictory and surprising findings can certainly be theorized, there is clearly a need for further research on how the different measures relate to economic development.

The importance of gaming, in combination with the demonstrated detrimental effects of having a higher percentage of government employees (relative to other sectors) further reinforces the importance of economic diversification for reservation settings. Additionally, with the help of self-determination policies, many tribes already have successful economic strategies that extend beyond the development of a gaming enterprise, and many of these successes in the realm of development are linked to greater autonomy over tribal programs. For instance, tribes that assume control over forestry from the BIA experience a productivity increase of 38,000 board feet of timber output, and the price received in the marketplace for that output increases by 4.5 percent [53]. The importance of fostering tribally-owned small businesses also has a demonstrated impact. The Ho-Chunk Nation’s total businesses yield more than $100 million a year in revenues and reduced the unemployment rate on the reservation from 70 percent to single digits [54]. 

It is clear that education remains an important predictor for successful economic outcomes. Tribes should focus on subsidizing education costs for tribal members and should incentivize specialization in industries that will be most beneficial for the tribe to gain human capital. This will vary according to tribe. Tribes must identify the industries and services most likely to be profitable. The tribal government must have an understanding of the available and potential resources. Also, the tribe must know the kinds of skills that tribal members possess. An inventory of the skills of the existing population is useful because a survey will show what skills are in high supply or demand. For example, if a survey shows individuals with child care skills are unemployed due to lack of demand, and individuals skilled in basketry are discouraged to practice their craft due to child care responsibilities, then the tribe might form a cooperative enterprise for tribal members skilled in basketry. Meanwhile, tribal members skilled in child care can open a child care service [55]. It is entirely feasible that a lack of awareness of the skills that are available pose a significant obstacle to development. A tribe with an awareness its resources has gained a significant strategic advantage in planning out its economy and internal structure.

Additionally, the tribe must aid and encourage tribal members in their individual entrepreneurial pursuits. This may include streamlining the inevitable red tape or providing assistance. As individual incomes rise, tribal governments will pay less attention to the day-to-day issues of jobs, housing, and poverty, allowing them to address important issues such as constitutional reform. The goal of economic development is “not aimed simply at tribal resources with the mainstream economy” but instead is to increase cultural integrity and improve the day to day lives of tribal members [56]. The recent upturn in economic conditions for American Indians and Alaskan Natives today can be attributed to the present policies of self-determination and an increase in educational attainment. After more than a hundred years of failed efforts to improve the lives of the U.S. indigenous people, it is clear that the only strategy that has ever really worked is allowing tribes to make their own decisions.

Mary Lindeblad-Fry is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy.


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  39. Class III gaming means all forms of gaming that are not class I gaming or class II gaming, including but not limited to: (a) Any house banking game, including but not limited to – (1) Card games such as baccarat, chemin de fer, blackjack (21), and pai gow (if played as house banking games); (2) Casino games such as roulette, craps, and keno; (b) Any slot machines as defined in 15 U.S.C. 1171(a)(1) and electronic or electromechanical facsimiles of any game of chance; (c) Any sports betting and parimutuel wagering including but not limited to wagering on horse racing, dog racing or jai alai; or (d) Lotteries. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/25/502.4.
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  46. Cornell (2010), 15.
  47. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 eliminated Alaskan Natives’ claims to land, so that the federal government could sell rights to the land for the purpose of mineral and coal-mining. This was in exchange for a percentage of revenue from oil-sharing and a multimillion dollar settlement that was provided to Alaskan Native villages and regional corporations. This means that Alaskan Natives are tied to local villages, rather than reservations, and the land itself is not provided with the same sovereign status.
  48. To address the possibility of multicollinearity in the data, I evaluated the variance inflation factor. High collinearity has the potential to artificially decrease statistically significant effects. The variance inflation factors shows us how much the variance of the coefficient estimate is being inflated by multicollinearity. The variable with the highest VIF is the native language variable, which is 3.74. A commonly agreed- upon cutoff value is 10 (Kutner et. al. 2004). The rest of the variables had variance inflation factors all under 3. Therefore, multicollinearity
    was not a significant problem in this analysis.
  49. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016.” United States Census
    Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-
  50. Ibid.
  51. “Selected Population Profile in the United States 2016.” American Indian/Alaska Native. United States Census Bureau. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/ tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk#.
  52. Dean Howard Smith, Modern Tribal Development: Paths to Self-Sufficiency and Cultural Integrity in Indian Country (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2000).
  53. Cornell, S. a. K., Joseph. (2010). American Indian Self-Determination: The Political Economy of a Policy that Works. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series.
  54. Cornell, S. a. K., Joseph. (2010). American Indian Self-Determination: The Political Economy of a Policy that Works. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series.
  55. Smith
  56. Smith