Friday, September 07, 2007

Tribal Economic Development Mumblings

[I call these mumblings because these ideas are far from developed in my own mind.]

I'm curious about the strange dichotomies that seem to have sprung up in academia (but likely not in practice) about tribal economies.

For one, you have the socialism vs. capitalism dichotomy, an oversimplification if there ever was one, but it's there.

For another, you have the question of federal control vs. tribal control. Here, there are what I'll call (not intending to treat it as an epithet) the "libertarian" tribal self-determination theorists who believe that federal trust is a control mechanism, with the corollary that tribal economic development is impossible because individual Indians with trust/restricted lands do not own their own lands. Contrast that with the people who believe the federal government has a real trust responsibility to make as much money as possible on behalf of Indians/tribes -- and to manage it well. In the "libertarian" camp (or "individual property rights" camp), I guess you could say Terry Anderson is the leading light and he appears to argue for the complete dismantling of the trust relationship (at least in terms of land/property management). It looks a lot like a new termination era to me, but I'm just going on visceral reaction.

My own experience is much more nuanced that the whole "one or the other" dichotomy. Tribes need money and their leaders make decisions to maximize their chances to make money, even at the expense of neighboring tribes, if necessary. But at the same time they keep open unprofitable or marginally profitable enterprises because they're sources of jobs and income for reservation residents. My sense is the academic debate is divorced from reality, actually (as if you couldn't tell from my characterization of it - haha).

I just peered through the new collection co-edited by Terry Anderson ("Self-Determination": The Other Path for Native Americans") and I see essays with angles all over the place. I just don't see gaming as a "tragedy of the commons" any more than the fact that sugar grows better in warm weather and corn grows GREAT in Michigan. And as a member of a tribe with a minimal land base, I'm not concerned about the "forced collective land tenure system."

I guess I worry that this dichotomy focusing on "property rights" is taking over the academic debate over economic development systems in Indian Country.


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