It's not just identity, language, and song. It's about fundamental well-being and community, which includes economics.


Native American Heritage: It’s Not What You Think

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty. Chief Joseph, Washington, D.C., 14 January 1879

From protests and politics, to pop culture, Americans have begun to pay more attention to the continent’s indigenous peoples. The recent PBS series Native America offers a glimpse of the advanced civilizations that existed before European contact. The documentary film Rumble finally gives Native Americans “credit for influencing a vast amount of popular music.” A record number of Native American candidates were on mid-term ballots across the country, and Kansas and New Mexico elected the first two Native American women to the U.S. Congress. To recognize “the remarkable legacies and accomplishments of Native Americans,” as Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) put it, the Senate passed its annual resolution declaring Native American Heritage Month. The legislation’s co-sponsor, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), described Native American Month as an opportunity to “celebrate the indelible mark that Native American arts, languages, cultures, and peoples have left on New Mexico and the United States.” The emphasis on language, culture, art, and religion is integral to Native American heritage. But Native American heritage is not just about language and song; that heritage is also about the institutions that once governed and even now could help govern Native American daily lives.

This is the first of three essays aimed at a better understanding of how Native American heritage provides a foundation on which tribes can renew their economies…

Defining Ideas • Feburary 12, 2019

Wendy Purnell
Native Americans in the 20th Century

In August, Terry Anderson spoke at a conference titled “The American West: The History, the Values, the Struggle, and the Legacy of the 19th Century” and hosted by the Aspen Institute.

Along with Indian Country Today editor Mark Trahant, attorney Sheldon Spotted Elk, and archeologist Mark Varien, Terry Anderson discussed the challenges faced in Indian Country today and over the past century.

Martha Sandweiss moderated this panel on “Native Americans in the 20th Century” and, thanks to C-Span3’s HistoryTV, you can watch it online.

Martha Sandweiss moderates a panel with Terry Anderson, Mark Trahant, Sheldon Spotted Elk, and Mark Varien.

Martha Sandweiss moderates a panel with Terry Anderson, Mark Trahant, Sheldon Spotted Elk, and Mark Varien.

Wendy Purnell
Impact of Westward Expansion on Native Americans

In August, Terry Anderson spoke at a conference titled “The American West: The History, the Values, the Struggle, and the Legacy of the 19th Century” and hosted by the Aspen Institute.

Terry Anderson moderated a dicussion on the "Impact of Westward Expansion on Native Americans” with Yale University’s Ned Blackhawk and the University of Colorado’s Patricia Limerick. Thanks to C-Span3’s American History TV for making the conservation available online.

Terry Anderson moderates a panel featuring Yale University’s Ned Blackhawk and the Center of the American West’s Patricia Limerick.

Terry Anderson moderates a panel featuring Yale University’s Ned Blackhawk and the Center of the American West’s Patricia Limerick.

Wendy Purnell
Missing Property Rights on Native American Lands

On tribal lands, everything is more complicated. Adam Crepelle, visiting professor at Southern University Law Center talks to the Cato Institute’s Caleb Brown about obstacles to economic development in Indian Country.

On tribal lands, Native Americans are lacking key property rights. It’s hindering development on those so-called sovereign lands. Adam Crepelle comments.

Wendy Purnell
Unlocking Dead Capital for Indigenous People feat. Hernando de Soto

Last year, the Hoover Institution launched its Renewing Indigenous Economies Research Initiative to understand what institutions work best for local peoples, economies, and cultures.

The annual Indigenous Economies policy symposium will update the D.C. community on what has been called a "renaissance in tribal self-governance" and an "economic civil rights movement." This year's event featured the founders of the Alliance for Renewing Indigenous Economies, an international group of scholars and tribal leaders dedicated to secure land rights, self-government, and fiscal independence for indigenous communities.

Wendy Purnell
Why Indigenous Nations Fail feat. James Robinson

Renewing Indigenous Economics Forum talk by James A. Robinson Professor, University of Chicago, on Why Indian Nations Fail on Monday, September 24, 2018 in Stauffer Auditorium, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Professor James Robinson delivered a keynote address on September 24, 2018. Drawing on his award winning, co-authored book, Why Nations FailRobinson explained how different indigenous societies adapted their institutions over centuries, allowing them to survive and in many cases thrive. Robinson discussed how governance structures thrust upon them by modern nation states have stifled this evolutionary process and led to economic stagnation for many indigenous economies. By understanding why indigenous nations have failed, indigenous societies can renew their cultures and their economies.

Robinson's lecture was followed by comments from Manny Jules, Chief Commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission, and Te Maire Tau, Director of the Ngāi Tahu Research Center at the University of Canterbury.

Wendy Purnell
Whispering Pines Indian Band Chief on Kinder Morgan dispute

"I want you to respect my jurisdiction. I want you to invest in my community. But most of all I want you to keep the oil in the damn pipe."
Michael LeBourdais

The Whispering Pines Indian Band is closely watching the dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. It's among a number communities who've signed mutual benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan. But if the pipeline doesn't go through, the benefits won't flow.

Wendy Purnell
Restoring Tribal Economies

In the nineteenth century, the young nations of the United States and Canada enacted laws designed to undermine indigenous governance and economic independence. North America’s indigenous institutions—like tribal councils, sun dances, and potlatches—had evolved over centuries, but were suddenly declared illegal and replaced by federal programs. In both countries, a diverse set of indigenous governance structures, property rights, and trade networks was replaced by a monolithic system that centralized the provision of goods and services and fostered dependence on federal governments. “The indigenous population of the hemisphere was deprived not only of land and freedom,” observes Hoover fellow Thomas Sowell, but also of “the underlying foundation of cultural traditions on which any society is based.”

In today's indigenous communities we are observing a “renaissance in tribal self-governance” and an “economic civil rights movement.” Put another way, the devolution of power from the Feds to tribes is an experiment in federalism and decentralization—one that appears to be working. The innovation emerging on reservations in the United States can unlock many untapped resources for Native Americans.

Defining Ideas  December 20, 2017

Wendy Purnell
Indigenous Demographics Meets Provincial Fiscal Reality

Each year, Maclean’s presents its year-end Chartapalooza, a guide to making sense of the economy in the year ahead. The Tulo Centre's Andre Le Dressay's chart was included among the most important economic charts to watch in 2018.


"Canada can soon no longer afford to run the lives of indigenous people. Perhaps 2018 could be the indigenous policy fiscal tipping point for Canada."

Maclean's  December 5, 2017, via the Tulo Centre

Wendy Purnell
Creating the Alliance for Renewing Indigenous Economies

This summer, Alliance founders from Canada and New Zealand gathered in Kamloops, Brtitish Columbia. The Tulo Centre captured some of the conversation about the similarities and differences between the Maori experience and the First Nations experience. "We are joined by the Pacific, it doesn't divide us," explains Manny Jules.

Listen to Tulo's podcast to explore the importance of jurisdiction and the revolutionary ideas of the Alliance for Renewing Indigenous Economies. It isn't about just identity, language, and song. It's actually about fundamental well being and community, which includes economics as its underpinning.

Juli Holloway from the First Nations Tax Commission
Manny Jules from the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics
Te Maire Tau, Darren Russell, and Rinito Davis from the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre at the University of Canterbury

The Tulo Centre September 6, 2017

Wendy Purnell
Zuckerberg meets Native American poverty

The Blackfeet, like so many tribes are searching for ways to free themselves from colonial bondage, and there is hope. Lance Morgan, managing partner of a national tribal law firm, noted in the Arizona State Law Journal, “The economic rise of tribes in the last twenty-five years, largely due to long term impact of self-determination, gaming, natural resource development, and the ancillary rise of tribal corporations, has changed the basic economic and legal equation.”

The Hill • July 24, 2017

Wendy Purnell
Jurisdiction critical for First Nations in nation-to-nation relationship

Confederation was based on the fiction that First Nations title and jurisdiction didn’t exist — a founding myth that has been busted many times by the courts in the last 40 years.
Now is the time to commit ourselves to creating protected First Nation powers and revenue authorities within the FMA. This would help complete Confederation and bring about reconciliation. It would reject the notion that indigenous people can’t govern themselves. It would provide an option to implement many recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It would provide a true nation-to-nation option.

As we enter the 150th year of Confederation, we are ready for the dawn of a new era for this country.

Vancouver Sun • July 9, 2017

Wendy Purnell
Quiet Crisis: Unmet Needs in Indian Country

In testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Alliance co-founder Terry Anderson explains that the poverty gap between Native Americans and other Americans is an institutional gap:

In the case of indigenous peoples, such institutions are a combination of rules and compliance procedures that evolved over a long period prior to western contact and of rules and compliance procedures that were imposed by the westerners with whom indigenous people came in contact.

The institutional gap for Native Americans includes both a lack of property rights for Indians to most reservation land and a lack of a rule of law on most reservations, and it is that institutional infrastructure that is as crucial as physical and educational infrastructure to “unlocking the wealth of Indian Nations.”
Sovereignty means having the authority to make decisions and the willingness to accept the consequences of those decisions. In the short-term, the federal government has a trust responsibility, including funding for reservation infrastructure, which it must live up to. But in the long-term, it should focus on providing the institutions that promote self-sufficiency both for tribes and individual Indians.

Read Anderson's full testimony.

Briefing on Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country, 2016 Update
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
 • February 19, 2016


Wendy Purnell