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Old 12-14-2011, 10:08 PM   #2
AmigoKumeyaay
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The problems of the reservations go well beyond residents not having the right incentives to upgrade their surroundings. With some exceptions, even casinos haven’t much benefited the several dozen reservations that have built them. Companies and investors are often reluctant to do business on reservations—everything from signing up fast food franchisees to lending to casino projects—because getting contracts enforced under tribal law can be iffy. Indian nations can be small and issues don’t come up that often, so commercial codes aren’t well-developed and precedents are lacking. And Indian defendants have a home court advantage. “We’re a long way from having a reliable business climate,” says Bill Yellowtail, a former Crow official and a former Montana state senator. “Businesses coming to the reservation ask, ‘What am I getting into?’ The tribal courts are not reliable dispute forums.”

Many reservations are rich in natural resources, but there’s no big rush to develop them, given the tangled issue of property rights and the risk of making a big investment without a secure legal footing. “We have 9 billion tons of high-quality coal sitting under the reservation, going largely untapped,” says Yellowtail. “Natural gas, too. Potential development galore, but that potential is never realized.” Indeed a $7 billion coal-to-liquids plan fell apart in April, though it was revived in a scaled-down version in July. Anderson adds that with any investment, “the tribe could change the deal after the fact because it’s sovereign.”

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Some tribes are taking steps to improve their legal structures, such as adopting new commercial codes to make their laws more uniform. Over a 30-year period, reservations that had adopted the judicial systems of the states where they’re located saw their per capita income grow 30% faster than reservations that didn’t, according to a study by Anderson and Parker. A separate study by Parker shows that Native Americans are 50% more likely to have a loan application approved when lenders have access to state courts. “Putting reservations under the legal jurisdiction of the states, and facilitating better legal codes and better functioning court systems, would assist tribes in developing their land,” says Anderson.

A bigger obstacle to these reforms may not be logistics or special interests, but the culture of the reservations and the generations after generations of dependency. Indeed, a notice on a bulletin board in Garryowen, Montana, inside the Crow reservation and near the site of Custer’s Last Stand, announces when the next round of “per capita payment checks”—derived from Crow Nation trust income–will be mailed.

“Privatizing land is fine but it falls far short of the answer,” says Yellowtail. “Our people don’t understand business. After 10 or 15 generations of not being involved in business, they’ve lost their feel for it. Capitalism is considered threatening to our identity, our traditions. Successful entrepreneurs are considered sell-outs, they’re ostracized. We have to promote the dignity of self-sufficiency among Indians. Instead we have a culture of malaise: ‘The tribe will take care of us.’ We accept the myth of communalism. And we don’t value education. We resist it.”

But Yellowtail believes that the situation is improving. He says there are more entrepreneurs than 20 years ago as networks of Native American business people have sprung up in Montana and elsewhere. “We have to start with micro loans, encouraging small businesses. Then we have to make it okay to leave the reservation because the most successful are going to want to branch out. Entrepreneurs are going to have to stick their neck out, be a role model. We Indians are going to have to do it.”
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