Commerce Law Could Be Key to Establishing Tribal Economic Development Council

Rob Capriccioso

For those clamoring for the president to appoint a tribal economic development council, the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented, say tribal advocates—and he wouldn’t have to use an executive order to do so, either.

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There has been a law on the books since 2000, the Indian Tribal Regulatory Reform and Business Act, which would allow the president to appoint a council filled with tribal leaders and business executives that could work together to develop plans to improve the economic forecast for Indian country, especially for struggling reservations. Recent testimony before Congress indicates that some reservations currently have a 50 percent unemployment rate, and many tribes have dire poverty rates and intense infrastructure and housing needs.

Passed in the waning days of the Clinton administration, three presidents to date – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – have missed the opportunity the law offers the Executive Branch to establish such a council.

“The Department of Commerce has authority over this, and in 14 years no one has bothered to launch it,” says Paul Moorehead, an Indian affairs lawyer with Powers Pyle. “President Obama could do it with a phone call to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.”

Moorehead says the creation of the council under this law could be an “attractive option” for the president because it has already been enacted into law, and it does not require new congressional action—not a light concern given the current political climate with a Republican House that has been quite keen lately to call out the president for taking executive actions.

The last time a tribal economic council convened on the federal level was during the Reagan administration in 1984, four years before Indian gaming was ever regulated by Congress. The Department of the Interior has also gathered tribal economic and labor data for years, but there have been many problems turning the data into a useful action plan.

RELATED: Frustration Surrounds New Tribal Labor Force Report

“A lot has happened in and out of Indian country in the last 30 years, and it’s probably time to review current challenges and inhibitors to growth and development in tribal communities,” Moorehead says. “This regulatory reform authority [called for by the 2000 law] could do just that. Of the 21 members of the regulatory reform authority, 21 would be tribal leaders or their designees and four would be private sector representatives.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) tells Indian Country Today Media Network that she is supportive of the Commerce Department establishing a tribal economic council under the 2000 law.

“I think that it would be totally appropriate for tribal leadership and expertise to be involved,” says Moore, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee. “I think it is important to get the expertise from the tribes. I certainly would support having an official group.”

Moore warns, though, that she would not want to see Natives seated on a “gratuitous” council that did not receive attention from the uppermost levels of government.


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100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
Modern commerce activities come at a heavy cost to cultural being. It is about dollars. Few will become winners (by hook and crook) and many will become permanent worker bees with wages only to survive from week to week. Navajos established townships with dreams of capitalistic idealism; we now have people working underpaid, under insured, and customers pay above market value for products. Dine' monopolizing owners are abusive always talking with hate about traditional Navajo thinking workers and the sweetness of "real world workers". To solve unemployment with dignity, the first thing to solve is global market targeting, inventorying the local natural and human resources to produce for identified target markets. Native people need to look at development that values tradition including respecting the people and the environment. Thoughtful cooperative projects (remember when everyone pitch in for free to build homes, gardens, fences, etc.) with huge returns and profit sharing is in our future when answering unemployment. We do not need something that benefits a few. We need to triple funding for schools, a massive infusion of investment capital, wide massive infrastructure development, and the highest priority technical support from every relevant department at our local Universities. That is real economic development, and the USA would be fulfilling the treaties.