Overcoming Challenges to Business and Economic Development in Indian Country. Study Sites


This study focuses on a small but diverse set of American Indian tribes and for-profit regional Alaska Native corporations. The sample was selected with the goal of obtaining insight about ways tribes overcome barriers to BD/ED. Based on what we learned in the earlier phases of the tribal component of the National Welfare-to-Work Evaluation, we identified a group of tribes and Native corporations thought to have promising approaches to BD/ED. The study sample was selected from this group. We sought to achieve diversity in the sample so that the study results would be relevant to a broad range of tribal settings and circumstances. A profile of each of the tribes/Native corporations participating in the BD/ED phase of the study is presented in Appendix B.

Figure 1.
Location of study participants.

Figure 1. Location of study participants.

The 10 tribes/Native corporations in the study are from diverse geographic areas (Figure 1). Two of the study participants are regional Alaska Native corporations (Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Doyon, Ltd.) created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), discussed in Chapter 2. One of the tribes is in the Pacific Northwest (Colville); three tribes are located in the northern plains (Cheyenne River Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa); one is in the southern plains (Citizen Potawatomi); two are in the southwest (Gila River and Navajo Nation); and one is in the southeast (Mississippi Choctaw).


Table 1.1.
Characteristics of Study Participants
Tribe/Native Corp Land Area
Enrolled Members Residents Employed Full-Time State
Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC) 3,000,000 70 7,000 6,000 n/a AK
Cheyenne River Sioux 1,419,504 80 14,423 14,861 1,085 SD
Citizen Potawatomi 4,018 10 24,500 24,414 5,880 OK
Colville Confederated Tribes 1,400,000 48 8,700 5,000 3,420 WA
Doyon Limited 12,500,000 n/a 14,000 14,000 n/a AK
Gila River 371,933 15 11,500 15,084 5,896 AZ
Mississippi Choctaw 37,483 28 8,900 5,190 2,590 MS
Navajo Nation 16,224,896 61 255,543 180,000 28,772 AZ, NM, UT
Three Affiliated Tribes 1,000,000 69 8,400 3,776 1,023 ND
Turtle Mountain Chippewa 140,107 58 25,000 8,331 5,247 ND
Notes: "Land Area" refers to the size of the reservation for tribes that have a reservation, the area owned by the tribe for tribes that lack a reservation (Citizen Potawatomi), and the lands awarded to the regional Native corporation by ANCSA.
Unemployment data are from the most recent BIA Labor Market Report (1997). The unemployment rates reported for Doyon, Ltd. and BBNC are for the Alaska Native villages in their corresponding regions.
Enrollment data for the two Alaska Native corporations, Bristol Bay and Doyon, Ltd., are for shareholders.
The "Enrolled Members" column indicates the number of tribal members regardless of the location of their residence.
n/a indicates data unavailable.

There is diversity in the sample in terms of the tribe/Native corporation's land area and, to a lesser extent, population size (Table 1.1). In terms of land area, the two Alaska Native corporations represent a special case. In accordance with ANCSA, shareholders in each corporation reside (or resided) in one of 12 regions of Alaska. These regions are large: the Bristol Bay region contains almost 3 million acres, and Doyon's region is entitled to 12.5 million acres. The tribe with the largest land area in the sample, Navajo Nation, has more than 16 million acres  almost the size of West Virginia. On the other hand, some of the tribes in the sample have small land areas. The Mississippi Choctaw Nation has 37,000 acres, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, only 4,000.(4)

Most of the tribes in the study have large enrollments. Navajo Nation (which vies with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma for being the largest tribe) has more than 250,000 members. The Citizen Potawatomi and Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribes each have about 25,000. The three smallest tribes in the sample (Colville Confederated Tribes, Mississippi Choctaw, Three Affiliated Tribes) each have fewer than 9,000.(5) Again, the regional Alaska Native corporations represent a special case. Many of the shareholders in these corporations reside in Native villages with a population of 600 or fewer. Twenty-eight percent of Doyon shareholders reside in these Native villages, 26 percent in Fairbanks, 11 percent in Anchorage, 10 percent in other parts of Alaska, and 25 percent outside the state.

Unemployment also varies among the tribes/Native corporations in the study sample. Citizen Potawatomi (10 percent) and Gila River (15 percent) had the lowest rates. Cheyenne River Sioux (80 percent) and Doyon, Ltd. (80 percent) had the highest. Such levels of unemployment are unknown in most American communities today (the rate for the United States as a whole was about 4.7% in 1997 and about 5.6% in January 2004).(6)

While each tribe/Native corporation has unique circumstances and location, some exploit common economic sectors. Cheyenne River Sioux, Gila River, Navajo, and Three Affiliated Tribes have strong farming and/or ranching industries. All except Navajo had some gaming operations, and the tribes with the most successful gaming (Gila River and Mississippi Choctaw) also have developed the tourism-hospitality sectors. Tourism and recreation unrelated to gaming are important to some tribes, such as Cheyenne River Sioux, Citizen Potawatomi, Colville, and Navajo. Production of forest products and/or mining are important sectors for the Colville, Mississippi Choctaw, and Navajo tribes (Table 1.2).


Table 1.2.
Economic/Business Development Initiatives
Tribe/Native Corp. Locations of Operations Key Industries
Bristol Bay Native Corp. AL, AK, CA, TX, WA, Russia Oil and Gas production, Investment Management
Cheyenne River Sioux SD Gaming, Gas, Communications, Beef and Bison, Fisheries, Tourism, Retail
Citizen Potawatomi OK Bank, Gaming, Recreation, Retail
Colville Confederated Tribes WA Agriculture, Livestock, Gaming, Construction, Fisheries, Forest products, Tourism and Recreation
Doyon, Ltd. AK Energy Production Services, Real Estate, Investment Management
Gila River AZ Gaming, Tourism and Recreation, Industrial Parks, Agriculture, Retail
Mississippi Choctaw MS, MI, AZ, FL, SC, IL, TX, Mexico Manufacturing , Gaming, Construction, Recreation, Tourism, Retail, Forestry, Energy Exploration
Navajo Nation AZ, NM, UT Agriculture and Livestock, Construction, Forestry, Tribal Government, Industrial Parks, Manufacturing, Mining, Tourism and Recreation
Three Affiliated Tribes ND Agriculture and Livestock, Construction, Fisheries, Gaming, Manufacturing, Retail, Tourism and Recreation
Turtle Mountain Chippewa ND Agriculture and Livestock, Construction, Fisheries, Gaming, Industrial Parks, Manufacturing, Tourism and Recreation
Note: In addition to business activities taking place on their reservations/tribal lands, some tribes/Native corporations operate businesses in other locations.

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