A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, At Last, Some Bright Spots in Indian Country, highlights how some tribes are managing their businesses better with less federal supervision.
Tribal business is suffering due to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) controls, the article states, pointing to the Crow Tribe in Montana as an example. Permits for coal development on the Crow Reservation require BIA approval—a lengthy, bureaucratic process that significantly hinders the tribe's economic development. The tribe's last reported annual revenue was only $17 million—a fraction of its estimated $90 billion worth of recoverable coal.
Meanwhile, "truly independent tribal management" is proving successful on other reservations. For instance, under the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1976, the Salish-Kootenai Confederated Tribes (SKCT) on Montana's Flathead Reservation assumed control of more than 100 programs previously run by federal and state agencies. In 1995, the tribe was granted authority to "play the leading role" in forestry decisions on their land, states the SKCT website.
"Timber production, non-timber forest products, and grazing provide jobs and income for tribal members," Salish-Kootenai tribal forest manager Jim Durglo told the article's author Terry Anderson, the executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The nonprofit institution PERC is a "think tank" where scholars document the ways government regulation and bureaucracy have led to environmental degradation.
"The Flathead Reservation earns $2.04 for every dollar it spends on timber management," the article states. "The neighboring Lolo National Forest, in contrast, earns only $1.10 for every dollar it spends. Moreover, the Flathead tribe's timber, water and wildlife habitat are all in better shape."
Anderson also noted that elk hunting on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Eastern Arizona brings in thousands of dollars in revenue for the tribe and employs tribal members.
"Tribes such as the Salish-Kootenai and White Mountain Apache show what Native Americans can do if freed from the heavy hand of the bureaucracy," Anderson concluded.