Robert J. Miller
excerpted from: Robert J. Miller, American Indian Entrepreneurs: Unique Challenges, Unlimited Potential, 40 Arizona State Law Journal 1297-1341, 1297-1300 (Winter 2008) (178 Footnotes)
Creating economic development and activity in Indian country is an absolutely crucial issue today. In fact, it is probably the most important modern day political, social, and financial concern that Indian nations and Indian people face. Tribal governments and Indians need to create jobs and economic activity on their reservations for tribal citizens who live both on and off of the reservations.
An obvious problem that plagues the development of economic activity in Indian country is the total lack of functioning economies on the vast majority of reservations. This is caused by a near absence of small businesses on reservations and the fact that Indians own private businesses at the lowest rate per capita for any ethnic or racial group in the United States. Certainly, if tribes can increase the entrepreneurial activities of tribal citizens, an increased number of privately operated businesses in Indian country would greatly benefit reservation communities. This crying *1298 need for economic and entrepreneurial activities on reservations remains true despite the incredible growth in Indian gaming and the undeniable benefit that this activity has provided many Indian nations and peoples.
Notwithstanding this phenomenal industry, American Indians remain as a group the poorest of the poor in the United States. Indians suffer under the highest unemployment and substandard housing rates of any ethnic or racial group. Real economies do not exist on the vast majority of the 300 Indian reservations in the forty-eight states or in Alaska Native villages. *1299 For example, there are very few bank branches on reservations, few large grocery stores or retail outlets, and an almost complete absence of businesses where people can spend their discretionary recreational dollars. Adequate roads and housing, clean water and sanitation, telephones and electricity are also in short supply on many reservations. Most Indian people on reservations today live under conditions that other Americans would not believe. In addition, urban Indians who live off reservations have incomes and family wealth far below the United States averages.
This intolerable situation has been tolerated for too long by federal and state governments and the public, and endured for too long by tribal governments and citizens. It is time to unleash the historical entrepreneurial spirit of American Indians to remedy the absence of economies and privately owned businesses in Indian country and for urban Indians. This Article addresses why there are so few Indian-owned businesses today on and off reservations; the unique legal, practical, and social challenges Indian entrepreneurs face; what can be done to increase their number; and why, despite these challenges, their potential is nearly unlimited.
Section one analyzes the unique social, cultural, legal, practical, and financial issues that American Indian entrepreneurs face that are rarely encountered by other American business people.
Section two examines the unlimited potential for American Indian entrepreneurs.
The Article then concludes with the hope that this unlimited potential can be realized to *1300 benefit American Indian nations, their citizens and families, their communities, and the local, state, and national communities as well.