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Best Books: Native Business and Economic Development

To understand the dynamics of Indian business and the complexities of tribal economics, many modern tribal leaders, business professionals, Indian studies students and scholars have begun to turn to books about American Indian business and economic development. In the past decade, several publications have joined this genre of useful resources. Here are some standouts.

In Rich Indians (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), American Indian Studies Associate Professor Alexandra Harmon offers a diverse, atypical view of the effects of tribal and American-­influenced economics on Indian people. The author draws on historical accounts, case studies and individual insights to give not just an academic perspective but also the views of tribal people themselves.

“It is an understatement to say histories of prosperous Indians are uncommon,” wrote Harmon. This idea may be what ignites the interest and debate of Indians and wealth: American Indians often shy away from the concept of personal wealth, given that Indian tradition encourages more communal interests.

Harmon addresses an important, thought-provoking question: Does wealth go against cultural values? Native leaders and business professionals struggle with this regularly. Harmon’s flowing narrative details the historical and modern economic plight of American Indian tribes, comparing Native and non-Native economic agendas and weaving in individual Native perspectives on capitalism.

“The desire to control wealth has given Indians and non-Indians their most common and compelling motivation to deal with each other,” stated Harmon.

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Tribal Contracting: Understanding and Drafting Business Contracts With American Indian Tribes (American Bar Association, 2009). This reference by M. Brent Leonhard, an experienced legal practitioner in Indian country, is essential for tribal leaders, Native business owners or anyone interested in doing business with tribal nations. Its legal summary covers federal Indian law and contract law, complete with sample business contracts and agreements.

Buffalo Inc.: American Indians and Economic Development (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008). Sebastian Felix Braun highlights the experiences of one tribal business organization—Pte Hca Ka, Inc., a bison-ranching enterprise on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Braun aims to “provide an account of a project that approached concerns of the well-being of disenfranchised and colonized people.” Well-written and engaging, it presents the many business challenges faced by the tribe and the organization and shows how they evolve through economic development while maintaining the tribe’s cultural integrity.

Self-Determinations: The Other Path for Native Americans. (Stanford University Press, 2006). More of an academic analysis of both U.S. American Indian and Canadian First Nation economic policy, this book by Terry Anderson, Bruce Benson and Thomas Flanagan examines the complexities of the evolution of Indian economic development through a range of essays whose topics include property rights, gaming, culture and tribal sovereignty. An important resource for anyone seeking to understand big-picture Indian economic policy.

The State of the Native Nations: Conditions Under U.S. Policies of Self-Determination (Oxford University Press, 2007). From the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development comes this staple for Native leaders or any student of American Indian studies. A useful collection of case studies and essays by both Native and non-Native contributors, the volume shows how contemporary tribes face unique economic, political and social challenges.

Rebuilding Native Nations Strategies for Governance and Development (University of Arizona Press, 2007). Miriam Jorgensen’s book provides important and critical perspective on Indian nation building through not only case studies but also through recommended best practices in the judicial, governance and business areas.