Overcoming Challenges to Business and Economic Development in Indian Country. Study Methods and Data Collection


We collected data between August 2001 and July 2002 through telephone interviews with all 10 tribes/Native corporations, followed by in-depth site visits to 3 of them (Colville, Mississippi Choctaw, and Navajo Nation). Telephone interviews generally included the director and staff of the tribal economic development program and officials of tribally owned or chartered enterprises. While all the study sites were selected, in part, because they had developed promising approaches to planning, implementing, or operating business or BD/ED initiatives, the three grantees selected for follow-up site visits described BD/ED approaches that are of special interest to other tribes/Native corporations, Congress, and other stakeholders in welfare reform in Indian country. Colville is applying advanced technology and developing new approaches to exploit its forestry resources. Mississippi Choctaw attracted manufacturing companies to their reservation and developed a variety of successful BD/ED initiatives before implementing gaming facilities. Navajo Nation, with its large land area, is pursuing BD/ED while devolving some authority from the central tribal government to local political entities, the Chapter Houses. Navajo Nation is also working with private companies in mining and power generation, and with two other tribes in the Four Corners Enterprise Community.

During the site visits, we interviewed staff of tribal BD/ED programs, tribal officials (chairman, governor, chief, financial officer, etc.), staff of welfare programs (such as TANF, if operated by the tribe, WtW, workforce development, vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation), members of the tribal planning department, and managers and staff of tribal businesses. We obtained additional information about the study participants from their Web sites, reports provided by tribal officials, federal agencies, and reference materials.

The next chapter describes the legal, historical, and cultural context of tribal BD/ED and federal legislation supporting it. Chapter 3 discusses federal BD/ED initiatives and programs, and identifies those that were most useful to the tribes and Alaska Native corporations participating in the study. Chapter 4 discusses challenges to tribal BD/ED as well as solutions the tribes/Native corporations in the study are using.


(1) In this report "Indian country" refers to American Indian reservations, rancherias, and pueblos; adjacent counties; and other areas where large numbers of American Indians or Alaska Natives reside (as in Alaska and Oklahoma). A different definition of Indian country is given under 18USC Chapter 53, Section 1151. For the sake of convenience, "tribal" in this report refers to both American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages.

(2) The first report, prepared for tribal leaders and managers, described preliminary findings of tribal experiences in designing and implementing WtW programs (Hillabrant and Rhoades 2000). The second, prepared for a wide audience, assessed the implementation and operation of tribal WtW programs, describing social, cultural, economic, programmatic, and other factors affecting their operation (Hillabrant et al. 2001). The third report focused on the tribal TANF program, the Indian country welfare program with the most participants and the largest budget (Hillabrant et al. 2003).

(3) The national WtW evaluation is described in several reports, such as Perez-Johnson, Hershey, and Bellotti, 2000; and Nightingale, Pindus, and Trutko, 2002.

(4) American Indian tribes, Alaska Native villages, and Alaska regional Native corporations own lands. In Alaska, most Indian and Alaska Native land ownership was determined by ANCSA. Title to Indian lands in the lower 48 states has been established in treaties between tribes and the United States, Congressional legislation, and executive order, as discussed in Chapter 2.

(5) Not all tribal members reside on their reservation. They are free to reside on the reservation or elsewhere. With the high levels of unemployment in Indian country, a large "Indian Diaspora" left the reservations to secure employment. Since passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, all American Indians and Alaska Natives are citizens of the United States, eligible for passports and free to travel and reside abroad.

(6) Precise data on employment and unemployment on reservations are scarce for several reasons: (1) many families lack a telephone, which makes it difficult to contact them; (2) many residences lack a standard address such as a street name and number, which makes it difficult to reach them by mail or by personal interviews; (3) significant numbers of Indians and Alaska Natives have limited English skills, which complicates communication; (4) some tribal members lack social security numbers, which makes tracking them difficult; (5) many reservations cross county, state, or national boundaries, which creates jurisdictional problems; and (6) many Indians and Alaska Natives are involved in subsistence economies, deriving much of their food from hunting, fishing, and trapping, and deriving income from non-salaried entrepreneurial activities such as selling fish and game, crafts, and art objects. For these and other reasons, employment data for Indian reservations tend to be less valid than for other locations. Employment data are published by the BIA, working in concert with the tribes, the Bureau of the Census, and the Department of Labor. When this report was prepared, the most recent data available from the BIA were for the 1997 calendar year, the source for unemployment rate data presented in Table I.1.

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