Economic Impact

In the Native American world where life is viewed as interconnected, every decision has physical economic, social and spiritual consequences, and all these impacts must be carefully considered.

In the past few decades, some of the 500 plus tribes in North America have made strides to diversify their economies and improve the quality of life for their people, but challenges remain. Even in their government roll tribes are legally sovereign nations- they have not always been afforded the same or similar authority and rights as state, country or other municipal governments.

Tribes have had to become more entrepreneurial in creating sustainable economies to support their governments and provide basic services to their people. Tribes are virtually invisible politically and economically. Few people know the extent of tribal lands, which scatter throughout the United States with tribes, nations, communities, and bands holding over 50 million acres or about 2 percent of U.S  lands. Most of these lands are in rural areas away from centered populations, nearly all land was once in remote locations but as the population grew they found themselves surrounded by urban areas.

Further complicating the picture is the trust responsibility the U.S. government has over tribal lands. Title to tribal lands is held by the federal government in trust for the benefit of current and future generations of tribal members. This trust responsibility—which is at the heart of the relationship between tribes and the federal government—has been upheld through treaties, federal statutes, and regulations, and is a power delegated in the U.S. Constitution under the Commerce Clause. Because the land lies in trust status for tribes, tribal governments exercise sovereign authority within their boundaries and are generally not subject to state laws.

Tribes vary widely in their development experience and for many reasons, it is different to develop a project on reservation land than it is elsewhere.  In many cases, tribes lack the capital to provide needed infrastructure, such as water, power, and sewage, so developers must consider including infrastructure build out in the lease agreement. In recent years, Tribal economic development has provided the base on which tribal nations have built strong and growing communities and healthy economies. Relying on Native traditions to guide community development, tribes have invested the resources from tribal economic development into their schools to support their youth and have built innovative elder care facilities. Tribal government and business leaders are focused on creating jobs and building workforce.