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.

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Restoring Tribal Economies

Colonial-era policies and paternalistic attitudes continue to restrict economic activity on reservations and most indigenous economies remain dependent on the federal government. 

Despite its very real troubles, the future of Indian Country is not bleak. There are bright spots. Throughout North America, indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs are innovating to lift their communities out of poverty. What’s especially remarkable about these bright spots is that they are examples of people and communities overcoming huge obstacles to close the institutional gap.

Read more at Defining Ideas.

Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations

The chapters in this volume document the involvement of indigenous people in market economies long before European contact, provide evidence on how the wealth of Indian Nations has been held hostage to bureaucratic red tape, and explains how their wealth can be unlocked through self-determination and sovereignty.

Although the title of this book suggests its focus is on American Indian Nations, the lack of property rights and a stable rule of law applies to indigenous peoples around the world, not just those in North America. The chapter on Māori tribal economies goes beyond North America and should serve as a call for scholars to consider how institutional adaptation allowed indigenous peoples to thrive in the past and how the lack of such adaption prevents them from utilizing their rightful human and physical resources. All of the other chapters provide a template for how indigenous resources can be unlocked to generate wealth for their owners. If this volume is successful for stimulating further scholarship and, more importantly, stimulating a spontaneous evolution of institutional change led by indigenous people themselves, it will have been a success.

Available from Rowman & Littlefield

Renewed Indigenous Economies

Institutional economics provides a lens for better understanding how “old” (pre-European contact) indigenous economies worked, how “colonial” indigenous economies usurped indigenous jurisdictions and governance rules, and how “new” indigenous economies might be renewed to help indigenous peoples pull themselves out of dependency and poverty.

The foundation for new indigenous economies begins with a growing body of research starting with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development led by Joseph Kalt and Stephen Cornell and continuing most recently with scholarship exemplified in Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations (2016) and the open textbook from the Tulo Centre, Building a Competitive First Nation Investment Climate. The emphasis is on renewing indigenous economies because the historical evidence shows that many indigenous groups had institutions that sustained cultural and economic development. Over the past 150 years, however, those institutions have been eroded mainly by top-down constraints imposed by federal governments. Renewing those institutions is the key to unlocking the wealth of Indian Nations.

Forthcoming from Terry L. Anderson

Ngāi Tahu Research Centre

Kā Waimaero, the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre (NTRC) was founded for the purpose of being a leader in indigenous scholarship and to provide a centre for the intellectual capital and development of Ngāi Tahu, the principal Māori iwi of the southern region of New Zealand. NTRC was established in August 2011 as a joint venture between Ngāi Tahu and the University of Canterbury. 

The Ngāi Tahu Research Centre is best defined by reference to its dual mission statements, which are:

Mission Statements

  • To create intellectual capital and leadership able to lead and support tribal development.

  • To establish the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre as the foremost indigenous Research Centre in New Zealand and the Pacific with strong links to the principal institutions that lead indigenous scholarship and development.

Explore Ngāi Tahu's research.

Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics

The Tulo Centre is committed to developing original research and curriculum that supports accredited training and greater participation of indigenous populations in market opportunities. The Tulo Centre works with its partners to conduct research that supports curriculum for new courses related to Resource Development Interest Based Negotiations, Demographics, Information Management, First Nation Law and Economics, Resource Development Economics, Financial Management, First Nation Fiscal Relationships and Public Finance.

The Tulo Centre focuses on research to contribute to the knowledge of economic development for Indigenous governments. The research projects look at best practices to improve markets on indigenous lands, case studies from across Canada that encompass diverse circumstances and other projects that contribute to the understanding of building legal and administrative systems to support investment on First Nation land. 

Explore the Tulo Centre's research.

Summary of Hoover Institutition's Renewing Indigenous Economies Research Initiative

Around the world, indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs are lifting their communities out of poverty despite oppressive, colonial-era policies that are still on the books. The Hoover Institution’s Renewing Indigenous Economies research initiative aims to inform this emerging economic civil rights movement, fuel a philosophical revolution, and help a thousand indigenous nations bloom.

Today’s prevailing philosophy — what might be called the old indigenous economics — and its top-down institutions have failed indigenous peoples, denied actual sovereignty for indigenous nations, and stifled economic growth. Consider the status quo:

As lead scholar Terry Anderson explained in testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the poverty gap between Native Americans and other Americans— much like the poverty gap between indigenous peoples and others in Canada and New Zealand—is an institutional gap.

In their early days, the newly sovereign nations of the United States, Canada, and New Zealand enacted laws designed to undermine indigenous governance and economic independence. Indigenous institutions— like tribal councils, sundances, and potlatches— that had evolved over centuries were declared illegal and replaced by colonial institutions. In each of these countries, a diverse ecosystem of indigenous governance structures, property rights, and market mechanisms was replaced by a monolithic system that centralized the provision of goods and services, and fostered dependence on federal governments.

Despite these institutional obstacles, several indigenous nations have experienced rapid economic growth in recent decades. These nations—though culturally diverse—have all focused on clearly defined jurisdictions and governance. Their successes illustrate that moving out of the colonial era is a matter of renewing and adapting old indigenous institutions to benefit from modern market economies.

The Hoover Institution’s Renewing Indigenous Economies research initiative will focus on understanding what institutions work best for indigenous peoples, economies, and cultures.

The impact of the initiative will affect more than just indigenous communities. GDP growth has begun to flatten in the United States and Canada while it continues to skyrocket in places like China and India. Unlocking the potential of indigenous communities and land holdings could see an end to what some have called “the great stagnation.”

Consider these indicators of untapped economic potential from the initiative’s initial countries of focus:

  • If the economic gap between First Nations economies and other Canadian communities were closed, Canada’s annual GDP would rise by $27 billion;

  • New Zealand’s Maori economy is currently worth about $42 billion and is growing at a faster rate than the New Zealand economy;

  • Undeveloped energy resources on tribal lands in the U.S. could generate nearly $1 trillion in revenues for tribes and surrounding communities; and

  • The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for rest of the United States.

In Canada, several First Nations have developed property taxation, expanded revenue, and moved past dependency to provide quality services. In 2017, recognizing the increasing irrelevance of Canada’s paternalistic oversight, Prime Minister Trudeau reshuffled his cabinet ministers to pave the way for abolishing Canada’s Indian Act.

The United States has yet to see a similar commitment to radical federal policy reform, but indigenous institutional innovation is underway. “By enacting tribal laws,” legal scholar and Winnebago leader Lance Morgan explains, “the tribe expands and flexes its sovereignty. It really is quite simple. Federal Indian law is restrictive and tribal law is expansive.”

What we are observing in indigenous communities is a series of radical experiments in federalism and decentralization. The innovation emerging on reserves in Canada and reservations in the United States is about unlocking human potential in a way that could reawaken stagnating national economies and inform social change around the world.

It is, therefore, extremely important that this emerging economic civil rights movement be fueled by solid ideas, sound economic principles, and practical policy recommendations.

To develop, implement, and share the ideas of new indigenous economics, Hoover’s Renewing Indigenous Economies initiative will support academic research, foster communication among tribal leaders, educate legislators and other policy makers, and share indigenous success stories with public intellectuals and trust agents.