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.