American Indian Economic Development

February 17, 1984

Report Outline
Economic Crossroads
Federal Indian Politics
Prospects for Growth
Special Focus

Economic Crossroads

Long Stuggle to Build Self-Sufficiency

American Indian tribes may be approaching a crossroad in their struggle for economic independence in Indian country. President Reagan's budget cutbacks are forcing tribal governments to scramble to open industrial parks, trailer courts, tourist stops, bingo halls and other business ventures to bring money and jobs onto impoverished reservations. Shifting world energy markets are presenting some tribes with difficult decisions on managing the coal, oil and gas, uranium and other natural resources that their reservations contain.

In the process, Indian leaders are trying to build self-sufficient reservations—no longer dependent on federal economic assistance—to back up the political self-determination that tribal governments gained in the 1970s. As Mescalero Apache Tribal President Wendell Chino declared, his people “are still tough and independent, and we are determined to make progress on our own.”

The potential for economic self-sufficiency exists. The tribes that control vast energy and timber reserves can exploit those resources, while others can take advantage of scenic reservation lands and fine jewelry- and pottery-making traditions. As self-governing sovereigns, exempt from state and local taxes and regulation, tribes can set the terms for their own growth and offer special incentives to lure investment and industry.

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