[Reader-list] [ZESTEconomics] The architecture of a sustainable American Indian economy

Rob van Kranenburg kranenbu at xs4all.nl
Fri Jun 17 02:38:30 IST 2005

From: "Vipul Bathwal" <vipbat at gmail.com>
Sender: ZESTEconomics at yahoogroups.com
List-Id: <ZESTEconomics.yahoogroups.com>
Date: Sun, 05 Jun 2005 11:02:49 -0000
Subject: [ZESTEconomics] The architecture of a sustainable American
Indian economy

The architecture of a sustainable American Indian economy
   By Paul Frits
   © Indian Country Today | June 02, 2005

Everyone knows what the important economic question is. And that
question applies to all tribes, because we - all our tribes - have
experienced more or less the same history.

After so many centuries of our lands and resources, our cultural
norms and our original social orders and governance systems being
assaulted, violated, disrespected, stereotyped, ridiculed,
appropriated, misappropriated, substituted, adulterated,
misrepresented, persecuted, suppressed, dominated, smothered and, in
some cases, snuffed out by the dominant culture, how can Native
societies reconstitute themselves to the point of forever leaving
behind a dependent survival pattern?

The answer may be found in another question: How can the North
American tribal community develop a long-term, robust, sustainable
and inclusive economy capable of achieving necessary self-government
revenues, acceptable employment statistics and desirable growth
rates across all (or most all) tribes, towards a collectively secure
self-governance tradition and a mutually supportive economic future?

This is perhaps the primary defining question that confronts our
tribal leaders in rebuilding our collective community of First
Nations of the Americas. We are perhaps now, finally, close to
seriously addressing this challenge.

After more than five centuries following initial contact with the
first immigrant settlers in this hemisphere, we are perhaps poised
to truly re-develop an ''international'' community of First Nations
based on a positive, harmonized, collective momentum of economic
initiative, rather than a merely reactive pattern of responses to
successive generations of negative external pressures.

Historical inter-tribal commerce

It is a truism that the North American tribal community constitutes
a group of societies whose collective identity is defined by so much
more than being simply one member of the contemporary North American
community of ''visible minorities.''

Rather, our true collective identity is as much fed by the mythic
and historical value of our shared spiritual relationship with the
lands of our respective ancestors as by the way we all - every last
tribe, from all four directions - weaved the mystical properties of
our natural environments into the belief systems and collective
rituals that held our communities together, as self-governing and
sovereign societies since time immemorial.

And yet we may be well-advised to learn some commercial and
financial practices from other minorities (visible and otherwise)
that were not original inhabitants of the Americas, but who have
come here and lifted the economic tide of their respective
communities through their own economic behaviors. There are many
such minorities whose constituent groups have offered jobs,
opportunities and benefits to the surrounding community while
benefiting individuals and groups within their specific minority.

This has been accomplished in such ways that a greater-than-average
per capita percentage of net benefits accrued within that minority
in areas where the need was greatest. Such benefit-sharing has been
conveyed within these minority groups through the advancement of
capital on credit, investment opportunities and co-venturing
opportunities, contracting opportunities and job opportunities. And
such practices have been of critical importance to the expansion and
diversification of economic activity within those minority groups.

In this vein, it is worth noting that our collective Native identity
has been defined in part by the historic patterns of commercial
interaction that existed between our societies, particularly in pre-
Columbian times. In that context, we are informed by oral traditions
and by the record of archaeological relics that reveal there was an
extensive system of interactive trade patterns extending northeast
and northwest from Central America across most of North American. A
similar trade pattern also extended southeast and southwest from
Central America across much of South America.

Returning to original economic patterns

The modern return to pre-Columbian, inter-tribal economic patterns
will, in part, be based on natural preferences favoring the hiring
of Native peoples, and the procurement of goods and services from
Native-controlled businesses. It will also, in part, be based simply
on the networking of tribes and Native individuals with common
investment interests, towards co-investing in specialized or general

It will be further based on the establishment of commercial Native
enterprises, and by tribal governments and non-governmental Native
individuals and groups that structure their services and products to
reach out to Native markets and facilitate specialized access to
goods and services to which access has previously been subject to
barriers. In this way, new secondary and tertiary Native industries
are more likely to emerge.

Facilitating such patterns

These themes were addressed to some extent at the annual convention
of the National Indian Gaming Association, held in San Diego in
April, and expressed principally in two proposed initiatives.

The first initiative proposes to encourage the tribal government
gaming sector to be active in training and hiring Native
individuals, and in exercising purchasing practices which benefit
Native companies and companies that have a policy of benefiting
Natives through employment and/or subcontracts.

The second initiative contemplates the active development of an
American Indian Business Network that might facilitate positive
results in the first initiative described above, and have other
positive effects.

The proposed NIGA initiatives echo a theme that has been the subject
of initiatives pursued for some time by the National Center for
American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). These efforts were
the subject of many conference sessions and various public addresses
made at the NCAIED-organized Res 2005 conference held in February in
Las Vegas.

In fact, NCAIED has long facilitated, through its networks and its
Native business support program, access in favor of Native business
(both tribal government and private sector) to U.S. government
contracting preferences (under Section 8(a) of the Small Business
Act), and similar access to the mainstream private sector business
community (particularly public companies having ethnic
diversification policies).

It is clear that such continued efforts are required. The average
poverty rate for members of gaming tribes is still high: 24.7
percent. The rate for non-gaming tribes is 33 percent.

In view of these statistics, the desirability of encouraging and
facilitating the aforementioned patterns of contemporary Native
business practices is unquestionable. But even more significantly,
in view of the rapid growth of the American Indian population over
the next generation, these commercial patterns are desirable for the
expansion and diversification of the broader Native economy.

Such diversification is also particularly desirable in view of
emerging challenges to any tribe's inadvisable reliance upon a
single-industry economy.

Adapting the ancient practices

There are special reasons for, and approaches to, optimizing the
implementation of such remedial collective inter-tribal practices,
especially in the case of particular standard tribal government
business sectors not limited to gaming - upon which some tribes have
become inordinately reliant. Moreover, there are tips to avoiding
undesirable complications in the implementation of such practices
and efforts. These will be explored in the next installment of this

Paul Frits is a Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
He was a member of the board of his First Nation's Business
Development Corporation through most of the 1990s, and continues to
be an honorary member of that corporation. Frits practiced Native
law for many years and has advised many tribal administrations in
their public governance matters and economic development
initiatives, including casino/hospitality, financial services,
energy, natural resources, services, manufacturing,
telecommunications and information technology, cultural and other
industries. Frits volunteers his time to research and write
perspective columns on matters of interest to the broader Native
community. He may be reached at paulfrits at hotmail.com.


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