Few people would argue that Native American economic development is a boon for Native American communities. The most well-known example is native-owned casinos, which generate large fiscal returns for participating tribes.
These profits, in turn, have an overarching positive effect on tribal communities in terms of increased employment, quality of life and overall health. Recent research studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “The casinos have changed the economic climate in and around the reservations. Examining the effects of casinos after at least four years of operation, the authors find that positive changes include: young adults moving back to reservations, fueling an 11.5 percent population increase; adult employment increasing by 26 percent; and a 14 percent decline in the number of working poor. In counties with or near a casino, the employment-to-population ratio has increased and mortality has declined.”
But what is perhaps less obvious are the positive effects native businesses can have on non-native communities as a whole. Native American economic development can lead to improvements to the infrastructure of surrounding communities, and it can invigorate a city’s business culture and revitalize commerce.
Native American Economic Development Can Mean Development for All
A 2013 Casino City Indian Gaming Industry Report noted that tribes had made payments of $2.5 billion to local governments from casino revenues. Tribal leaders can then funnel these payments into a variety of streams to help buttress a city’s local economy. Furthermore, native groups offer more than just casino revenue. Native American economic development has a large impact on a city’s housing, commerce and tourism industry.
One of the best and most recent examples of tribal leaders finding new ways to invigorate local communities is the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Indiana. The tribe, who want to build a village and casino in South Bend, agreed to pay the city $400,000 for essential infrastructure improvements. Furthermore, the Pokagon Band will give the city two percent of its casino profits; half will go to the city’s general fund and the rest to the South Bend Redevelopment Commission.
The Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, says “These are historic agreements for the City of South Bend with the region’s original inhabitants that will infuse millions of dollars into the economy and create hundreds of new jobs.” Buttigieg went on to emphasize that “It’s extraordinary to reach an agreement that will not only support the economy, but also provide much needed funding for community projects, local organizations and our schools.”
This kind of innovative and mutually beneficial approach to economic partnerships is just the kind of novel thinking that will help a tribal leader forge new and prosperous alliances with communities and help ensure a Native American community’s prosperous future.
Knowing How to Forge Alliances
It is vital that tribal communities create economic alliances with counties, cities and states. Some universities now offer programs that focus on helping future native leaders navigate the social and economic landscape so they are fully prepared to recognize and develop opportunities that will further their tribe’s prosperity. For example, Southeastern Oklahoma State University offers MBA courses in Native American Leadership. The courses highlight a variety of legal, cultural and social issues of importance to Native American communities.
A solid educational background gives tribal leaders the understanding they need to leverage Native American economic development for community improvement. The ability to reach out to cities in non-traditional ways will not only increase a tribe’s future networking and business opportunities, it will also bring non-native and native communities closer together in the shared goal of mutual prosperity.