Overcoming Challenges to Business and Economic Development in Indian Country. Improving Collaboration with States, Counties, and Other Tribes


Despite a history of disputes and conflicts of interest, tribes have increasingly cooperated with states and counties in such areas as welfare reform and BD/ED. Many states and counties have worked closely with tribes taking over the operation of TANF programs (Hillabrant et al. 2003). Six tribes in the study (Colville, Citizen Potawatomi, Gila River, Navajo Nation, Three Affiliated Tribes, Turtle Mountain Chippewa) reported mutually beneficial coordination of BD/ED activities with states, counties, and/or regional bodies. Informants said that as tribal economies have grown, states, counties, and other organizations have shown more trust and respect for tribes, which, in turn, has facilitated cooperation in BD/ED planning and activities:

  • At the county level, the Colville tribe has an Intergovernmental Agreement with Okanogan County for planning/management about land use, shoreline use, and general information sharing. The tribe works with two other adjacent counties as well as the Spokane tribe in a regional EZ/EC program (Five Star) that coordinated over $27 million in federal, state, local/regional, tribal, and private-sector funds in 2003.
  • Citizen Potawatomi works closely with the state on a road construction project, and with the county and the city of Shawnee on a rural water project funded by the USDA. Tribal officials said that relations with the county are improving and both entities are developing trust.
  • Over the past 10 years, Gila River has overcome a history of antagonism and conflict to work increasingly with state, regional, and local governments and organizations, as well as with other tribes. For example, Gila River is working with Ft. McDowell and Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribes on land use planning and with the Arizona Department of Commerce as well as the Greater Phoenix Economic Council for BD/ED planning.
  • Navajo Nation has partnered with the Ute Mountain Ute and Hopi tribes in the Four Corners EZ/EC program, which coordinated over $29 million in federal, state, local/regional, tribal, and private-sector funds in 2003.
  • At Three Affiliated Tribes, the Community Economic Development Services Office has a seat on the board of the Sours River Basin Planning Council, has coordinated BD/ED efforts with the city of New Town, North Dakota, and has worked closely with the North Dakota State Economic Development and Finance Administration.
  • Both Doyon and BBNC work closely with the State of Alaska on BD/ED initiatives. Doyon has focused on forest management and infrastructure development including transportation, telecommunication, and power generation. BBNC owns 3.1 million acres in the region, and is working with the state to auction leases for natural gas and oil.


(1) The Harvard Project, created in 1986, is housed at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In collaboration with the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, the Harvard Project works for and with tribes and tribal organizations to research and document tribal governance and economic development. For more information, see [www.ksg.harvard.edu/hpaied].

(2) The grant for Navajo was made to a tribal enterprise, the Navajo Partnership for Housing. The grant for Doyon, Ltd. was made to its parent Native association, Tanana Chiefs Conference.

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