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Traditions applied in economics

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A kernel of corn recently found in ancient Northeast Oneida ruins, dating to about 400 years old, is also of a variety commonly found in South America.

As such it gives once again evidence that tribal peoples traveled and traded north and south. Trade and commerce is an old tradition. Native peoples knew the value of what they had, what they harvested and what they made. They traded their goods and services.

It is important that American Indians leading the fight for economic redress within the United States feel kindred to their cultural traditions and not be separated from that inheritance. Whatever our culture, economics is central. In their systems and endeavors, all peoples must generate values that their communities and nations can utilize.

At this moment in history, we suggest, economic activity of any legal kind is worth exploring and, when advantageous, worth engaging. It is part and parcel of pragmatic survival, the most ancient traditional tribal imperative.

Within a thoroughly capitalist world, particularly in one where the top echelon continues to gather onto itself an ever-larger percentage of the world's wealth, tribal communities must vie for financial bases as a key strategy for survival.

While some in Native America will tell you that economic activity today is not traditional, we are interested in seeking a deeper meaning to the efforts by tribes to secure their own economic bases. We are interested in ways that tribes are applying their traditions, including in this context of economic survival and the fortification of tribal revenue bases. The tradition applied is the one of conscious care for the feeding, housing and educating ? for the gainful employment ? of the people.

Land is a central part of it, as it was at the beginning of the last century. Common land bases hold the people together and make community cultures possible. But more than ever in history as well, cash-flow, the ability to generate dollars, for salaries, needed developments, myriad community services in all areas of sovereignty such as education, governance, land and economics, health and the strengthening of cultural bases ? this is completely necessary.

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Based on sovereign jurisdictions retained relative to states and federal civil structures, tribes have opened some substantial ground in this direction. Retailing and wholesaling of tobacco and oil products, particularly under tax-relieved jurisdictions, has boosted whole communities. Then, of course, along came gaming and entertainment, which has been the big piece of it. This is an opportunity which, though fraught with some growing pains, has the potential of injecting a true capital base under tribal coffers, enough to create self-generated economies, particularly behind stable and conscientious tribal governments.

This reality has much that is positive. It does not project the more obvious characteristics of what has become seen as traditional culture, but it does carry forward an important traditional concept: building the nation from the inside.

Generating the economy as applied tradition, nations pick up political clout as well. It is necessary and it augurs well for those that engage it with a strong sense of community building.

Even in per-capita arrangements, which can be troublesome, as the injection of capital into families can dissipate into consumer euphoria and questionable behavior, it can also trigger the opportunity for common investments, business startups, broader Native family landholdings ? all part of building family and community wealth.

The overarching policy that upholds sovereignty needs to be defended. American Indian nations benefit by taking seriously their potential for capital growth and by applying their best and most unified talents to the task.

Diversification, particularly via private initiative among tribal members, is of the greatest importance. Properly handling and building community finances is crucial. Education of the new generation to benefit their people and to understand the basis of their tribal sovereignty; and creating the tribal structure to incorporate young graduates into productive jobs as they come out of skills training and institutions of higher learning ? these are activities that deserve the highest priority.

It is crucial to tribal survival at the beginning of the 21st century for nations to have strong and industrious members. Economics is a major core around which the rest revolves. It creates more options that Indian people can use to rebuild their peoples; their families, clans and nations can be understood in that context.

Never forget your corn, the old people still say, and interestingly, as excavations take place, that old corn keeps turning up. It is an old message from across the generations that should be heeded in this time and place when modern economics permeates every institution of our existence. Engage the functions needed to feed the people we must, as this is our collective duty. If the goal is nation building, tradition is in it. This is tradition applied.