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Thoughts on Prosperity

The challenges we face as indigenous peoples with our reservation economies is frequently in the news. From many places, there are discussions about health, schooling, violence, and the lack of good housing and transportation. The stories are so personal. To each of us they are our stories, our relatives, sometimes they are us, in the past or even now. We hear more and more about the special circumstances faced by those of us who live in urban and metropolitan areas. We know unemployment is high and also that our home-based and barter economies are both significant to our financial well-being and a natural extension of our tribal societal practices. We are communal and family-oriented so it is not surprising that our families support each other both in actions and with financial resources.

It reminds me that there are many people who are not aware of the richness of our cultures and our families and of our relationship to the land. While it is true that many live in dire poverty, it is also true that powerful qualities from our traditional economies exist as a resource for a more prosperous future. It is also true that education, especially an education that is rooted in tradition and tribal knowledge can ensure the ability to provide for oneself and one’s family. I see the success of this educational experience everyday at tribal colleges.

What does a healthy reservation economy look like? I prefer to offer the most straightforward explanations of economics and money when discussing how our economies can be strengthened. First we should always remember as tribal people that our people always had economies – we engaged in production, trade, and distribution of wealth. We recognized talents and abilities and trained people for the work that needed to be done. We had work time and leisure time. We decorate our functional tools with art to make our work more beautiful. We found ways to ensure that our governance was intact and that all people who needed support were cared for. Among different geographic groups we found ways to communicate that supported our ability to engage in trade. Through our resource management, we provided for basic needs for food and shelter and for health.

Second, we should recognize that a healthy family and reservation economy is within our reach. Tremendous human and natural resource capital exists and new technologies create opportunities to use that capital. Our population is young so we have a good resource in the development of skills and knowledge among our youth and young adults. They are responsive to technology and to the global economy. They are also still involved with our tribal cultures and are learning our ways in a modern context.

Third, we no longer have geographic and infrastructure barriers. There was a time when a lack of access to transportation especially highways and railroads could be a significant barrier to economic development. That is no longer true. While many rural reservation roads are in need of repair, this nation’s economic transportation system is quite intact. So are the resources that are needed for investment. It is good business to do business in Indian country so there is no lack of partnership opportunities.

Finally, we have proven our capabilities – we start and manage some of most successful public and private enterprises in the country. We build and operate home-based businesses, small and large commercial enterprises, public services, and are active in the entertainment industry. We are intimately involved with entrepreneurship and leadership. We know how to manage and how to make money.

Investment in education, infrastructure, and in diverse enterprises leads us into a prosperous future. We are not only eternally hopeful about the future, we take action to build resources and opportunities.

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