Toward a common American Indian development
We have emphasized before that "no tribe should be left behind." It is a call to self-reflection for the well-to-do tribal nations. Think carefully and hard about the kind of future you, as economic leaders, would wish and would propose for all of Indian country. We are suggesting that well-directed international or intertribal development programs emerge that involve both capital investment and philanthropic strategies.
Once, at its finest hour, out of the ruins of devastation, American democracy created an economic dream. A brilliant and far-seeing set of statesmen saw beyond the spoils of war and presented a plan of self-help for a devastated Europe and a conquered Japan. Over 50 years later, the results of that policy are visible as Europe and Japan continue as primary allies of the United States.
A unity that would last must also be sought for Indian country. It requires a real sharing of the hope that is offered by community economic growth. Indian leadership needs to put this discussion on the agenda on a regular basis. Unity is based on self-interest linked to interests in common. The common interest to preserve, rebuild and strengthen tribal sovereignty and protect recent economic advances is crucial to the present struggle of all the Native nations.
The collective history and reality of devastation continues to roll out in tribal communities. For a hundred years the loss of lands and tribal economic systems left a community leadership without the means to establish their people's self-empowerment. A century of defensive actions, continuously launched, did not prevent the tribes from being over-run, yet the defeat was never final. Sovereignty of Indian peoples endured. Tribes share that common history and must relish it.
Phoenix out of the ashes is possible now, and required. Hope is more palpable than ever right now. There have been some great gains in the past decade; much Indian land has been regained; the people's health, still hurting, has improved; a new generation is being educated with hope of returning to work within their tribal communities. In the centuries-old battle to regain economic viability within an American reality, a few tribes are having revolutionary success. These "Phoenix" tribes are part of something larger; all know it. Already, there is substantial tribal agreement on many fundamental national bases. Now a re-visioning is needed, one that encompasses the idea of helping all Indian communities grow - from within their own governments and strategies.
Despite TIME Magazine's highly sensational article paint-brushing Indian country economics as a big rip off, there is no great evidence of such. True: the Phoenix tribes have arisen. In some of these, even individual members are making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in per capita distributions from tribal enterprises. In most, however, the big gain is in members' civil and social services. These tribes have had highly energizing effects on their local and regional economies. They have achieved their success with considerable effort and hard work. None of them got there by being unintelligent. None of them were timid. All had vigorous leadership, willing to tangle and win against and in collaboration with state and federal forces. All have had to take on and overcome local and regional political and economic competitors of long standing.
Most everyone agrees that the Indian commons needs a serious look, that there is a growing disparity of wealth in Indian country. This is neither the intention nor the result of the successful tribes, although negative attacks - such as TIME's and The Wall Street Journal's and the Boston Globe's - seem intended to make you believe that it is. Nevertheless, the issue is already exploited by Indian-haters to incite internal fissures among whole tribal regions. So it is a situation that successful tribes, which rely on positive federal policies on tribal sovereignty and self-governance, are well advised to address.
We believe that positive, well-studied and experienced economic and cultural development initiatives, on an international Indian scale, are an entirely proper response. An Indian inter-tribal or internationalism is called for as the next step in casting off the shackles of colonialism. Indian-nation-to-Indian-nation aid, to elevate the tribal commons, to assist the self-empowerment and the growth of all tribes, this is a worthy goal for major Indian leaders. The leadership tribes of the next few years, those worthy of inclusion in history, will be those that implement successful policies of assistance to less economically empowered tribes. Honors will follow those who generate a major effort to help the many still devastated Native communities throughout Indian country. As with the advance of Indian gaming and its resulting benefits, we can and must do this for ourselves.
Elder brothers and elder sisters take care of their younger siblings. It is natural law. Unity, within families, within one tribe and, of course, among all the tribes that make up Indian country, strengthens the commons way beyond numbers. Partnership is all about that. All tribal tradition supports the idea of helping each other. Upholding this "social contract" is a major pillar of common success. There are some seriously devastated tribes, particularly in the Northern Great Plains, where well directed investment, Indian giving and philanthropy can make a world of difference.
The idea is not about throwing money away. What is suggested is a serious level of generosity to form community development corporations and tribal foundations or to contribute funds to those American Indian organizations that have the integrity and the depth of experience to generate strong economic, educational and cultural programs and projects.
Indian tribes that are making serious gains might consider a commitment of one to two percent of their Gross Tribal Product (GTP) to an inter-national development program. Read inter-national as in Indian nation to Indian nation; pulling from the common bootstraps as first concept. Some of this must be business development and capital investment; but there are also other very worthy non-profit cultural and educational initiatives that are essential to building healthy Indian communities. There are already excellent organizations and institutes that have good working projects with First Nations peoples and communities, so that motivated well-to-do tribes can study their choice of philanthropic initiatives in depth. Tribal foundations might chose to fund other tribes directly, or fund intermediary non-profit or financial ventures within the Indian country generally.
The Indian country development revolution brought on by gaming and other new enterprises of the past decade is maturing, both politically and culturally. The logical progression of capital accumulation and wealth formation is that more public rules of the social contract are in effect. A strong international development arm, one that promotes good business and philanthropic endeavors, needs to be seen as a requirement of American Indian success. It comes with the territory, and it should be a great source of pride for all tribes. Even the humble must strive to be generous, so the strongest and most wealthy should be most generous of all. Thus will a deeper, lasting unity be forged. Thus will we fashion our own responses to our own collective interests. Thus will Indian country endure, survive and thrive.