Study: Self-governance IS the answer
Harvard report confirms what tribal officials have been saying for years
National Congress of American Indians 1/7/2005
Self-governance is the key to crucial economic strides made by tribal governments in the last ten years, according to a report issued by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at the Kennedy School of Government. The report, American Indians on Reservations: A Databook of Socioeconomic Change Between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, compiled data and marked the positive changes in Indian Country over the last ten years. The report reflects the tremendous changes experienced by individual Indians living on reservations during a time of increasing political self-determination by tribes and the unprecedented expansion in gaming activities under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
"The data reflects that when tribes are truly empowered to govern, our communities grow," said Jacqueline Johnson, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. "There has been a ripple of positive change in tribal communities, as tribes make their own sound decisions on what is best for their citizens. Strong, healthy tribal self-governance is not just good for the health of tribal nations, but for the health of the United States as a whole."
Highlights of the report include:
Having started the 1990s with incomes lagging far behind those for the general U.S. population, American Indians in Indian Country experienced substantial growth in income per capita. Even with this Indian population rising by more than 20% between 1990 and 2000, real (inflation-adjusted) per capita Indian income rose by about one-third. For both gaming and non-gaming tribes, the overall rate of income growth substantially outstripped the 11% increase in real per capita income for the U.S. as a whole. However, the average income in Indian Country is still less than half the national U.S. average.
From 1990 to 2000, Indian family poverty rates dropped by seven percentage points or more in non-gaming areas, and by about ten percentage points in gaming areas. For the U.S. as a whole, family poverty dropped eight-tenths of a percentage point. Indian unemployment rates dropped by about two-and-a-half percentage points in non-gaming areas and by more than five percentage points in gaming areas. U.S. unemployment dropped by half a percentage point.
Housing overcrowding in Indian Country decreased during the decade, particularly in Indian areas without gaming. The percentage of American Indians living in homes with plumbing increased markedly in both gaming and non-gaming areas. The proportion of adult Indians on reservations with less than a 9th grade education declined substantially. In Indian areas with gaming this put adult Indians at about par with U.S. levels. The proportion of Indian adults with college degrees rose substantially, though not enough to keep pace with the very substantial gains in overall U.S. college attainment.
Johnson said the data reflects positive change, but there is still a long way to go to bridge the socioeconomic gap with mainstream America.
"Our economies will continue this upswing in socioeconomic standing as long as tribal governments are recognized as viable governments making good decisions for the health of their communities," Johnson said. "Indian leaders know what is best for protecting Indian communities. This report is a strong statement of the powers of tribal self-determination."
The report's co-author Jonathan Taylor, a research fellow at The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, said "the data shows solid improvement in the lives of Indians living on reservations with and without gaming. What's more, these gains came despite the fact that federal Indian funding levels have been losing ground against non-Indian domestic spending. Considering that reservation incomes fell by eight percent in the 1980s, the strides tribes have made in the 1990s are quite remarkable."
To view the report and supporting documentation please visit
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