Sovereignty and E-Commerce in Indian Country

A conference to learn more about e-commerce opportunities for tribal governments will be held February 2-3 at Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino.
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“From tribal lending to selling tribal and individual Indian goods and services, e-commerce is the future for successful tribal economies. Tribal leaders, directors and citizens must have a better understanding of why e-commerce is important to their reservations and how the internet can expand a tribe’s and Indian entrepreneur’s market,” reads a press release from Arizona State University.

The Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU along with the Rosette, LLP Economic Development Program will hold a conference February 2-3 called “Sovereignty and E-Commerce: Innovating and Reshaping the Borders of Indian Country” at Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino.

Kenneth L. Salazar, the 50th United States Secretary of the Interior will serve as the keynote speaker. Other speakers will include Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, and the outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs for the Department of the Interior, Lawrence S. Roberts. According to the press release, the goal of this event is to share information about how to navigate the tribal e-commerce environment.

So, why is e-commerce important? “Very few Indian reservations have functioning economies in which residents can be employed, purchase products and services, and find adequate housing on the reservation,” says the release. Those living on the reservation typically have to travel to distant cities to find work, banks, and stores. This makes community stability and building reservation economies difficult. “E-commerce is a promising avenue that tribal governments, Indian entrepreneurs, and communities can utilize to address these problems,” notes the press release.

Robert J. Miller, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Rosette LLP American Indian Economic Development Program with the Indian Legal Program, said “evidence demonstrates (for example, Amazon’s enormous online impact on brick and mortar retailers) that tribal governments and Indians engaging in business on reservations have to consider using e-commerce to diversify and strengthen tribal economies.”

Reservations lose money because of the lack of storefronts, which leads to a lack of economic activity and employment options. Economists call this “leakage,” when money leaves a community before it can circulate. A possible solution is for tribal governments to increase businesses operating using e-commerce.

Another economic principle that supports the development of reservation-based e-commerce is the “multiplier effect.” This is when each dollar spent by one person becomes profit and salary to others. The new person then spends the dollar and passes it on to someone else, who will also spend it. So that dollar echoes, or “multiplies” through an economy becoming pay, profit, and spending money for a large number of people as long as it stays in the local economy. The only way reservation communities can benefit from this principle is to keep dollars in the communities by creating more reservation-based businesses.

Learn more about tribal government e-commerce opportunities at the “Sovereignty and E-Commerce: Innovating and Reshaping the Borders of Indian Country” conference February 2-3. Register online by Friday, January 27.