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The Rise of Tribes and the Fall of Federal Indian Law
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Opinion: Federal government keeps Native people in poverty

Filed Under: Business | Environment | Opinion | Trust
More on: economic development, energy, poverty
     

Shawn Regan of the Property and Environment Research Center explains how federal policies keep Native Americans in poverty:
Indian lands are owned and managed by the federal government.
The government is the legal owner of all land and assets in Indian Country and is required to manage them for the benefit of Indians. But because Indians do not generally own their land or homes on reservations, they cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even tribes with valuable natural resources remain locked in poverty. Their resources amount to “dead capital”—unable to generate growth for tribal communities.

Nearly every aspect of economic development is controlled by federal agencies.
All development projects on Indian land must be reviewed and authorized by the government, a process that is notoriously slow and burdensome. On Indian lands, companies must go through at least four federal agencies and 49 steps to acquire a permit for energy development. Off reservation, it takes only four steps. This bureaucracy prevents tribes from capitalizing on their resources.

Reservations have a complex legal framework that hinders economic growth.
Thanks to the legacy of federal control, reservations have complicated legal and property systems that are detrimental to economic growth. Jurisdiction and land ownership can vary widely on reservations as a result of the government’s allotment policies of the nineteenth century. Navigating this complex system makes development and growth difficult on Indian lands.

Energy regulations make it difficult for tribes to develop their resources.
Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Tribe in Montana, puts it plainly: “The war on coal is a war on our families and our children.” Coal provides the greatest economic opportunity for the impoverished tribe, but regulations are making it hard for the tribe to capitalize on their natural resources. Some are even trying to prevent the tribe from exporting coal to Asia.

The federal government has repeatedly mismanaged Indian assets.
Tribes historically had little or no control over their energy resources. Royalties were set by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but the agency consistently undervalued Indian resources. A federal commission concluded in 1977 that leases negotiated on behalf of Indians were “among the poorest agreements ever made.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten much better. A recent class action suit alleged that the government mismanaged billions of dollars in Indian assets. The case settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion—far less than what was lost by the feds.

Get the Story:
Shawn Regan: 5 Ways The Government Keeps Native Americans In Poverty (Forbes.com 3/13)


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