New Frontiers in Indigenous Economies: The Example of the United States

  • Abstract:

    While the public customarily imagines Indigenous Peoples living in the past amongst the trappings of ancient civilizations, it seems almost sacrilegious and inappropriate to discuss their place in mainstream economy. Statistics concerning housing, health, substance abuse, education, suicide and crime give a grim vision of a minority living in poverty on the fringes of American society. Despite the odds, despite anomia (the loss of the traditional social norm without full replacement by the Western mainstream norm), Indigenous Nations have survived with key elements of their cultures intact. This paper proposes to discuss indigenous economies in the context of the United States and will attempt to provide answers to questions as to whether it is legitimate to consider indigenous minorities as different from other deprived minorities. When an Indigenous nation succeeds in creating a functional economic development, are they still considered as being different from the mainstream? The collective imagination would like to imagine Indians surviving outside capitalism, in an alternative economic world. Is an alternative economy possible? Most economic ventures—such as the infamous Indian casinos, or the lesser known tourist infrastructures—seem to work within the established system. How closely do they resemble the capitalistic ventures of the mainstream economy? Could Indigenous Nations provide answers to the Western world’s criticism of capitalism? Is their development truly alternative and have the Indigenous Nations avoided the pitfalls of Western capitalism? This paper is the product of research that spans over two decades mainly in the Southwest of the United States where Indigenous Nations have developed techniques of survival with a high level of group cohesion. Examples from Indigenous Nations across the United States will be discussed to assess policies that are relevant to other countries such as employment and a basic universal income.