TRIBAL ASSETS: The Rebirth of Native America by Robert H. White

TRIBAL ASSETS: The Rebirth of Native America

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A low-key (albeit admiring) report on how four American Indian communities launched business ventures that enabled them to gain a substantial measure of independence, address long-standing social problems, take steps to preserve their cultural heritages, and work toward other worthwhile goals. While White (a writer for Time-Life books) does not claim that economic sovereignty has proved millennial, he credits self-sufficiency with making a difference for the tribes that achieved it. Among other cases in point, the author recounts the ups and downs of Maine's Passamaquoddies, who invested a multimillion-dollar land settlement in a variety of enterprises; one--a joint venture with Finnish partners to produce building panels--came a cropper, but there have been more profitable winners than losers. Even more affluent are the three tribes comprising Oregon's Warm Springs Confederation; their interests range from a world-class resort through a forest-products complex, a factory that makes apparel, and a hydroelectric plant. In like vein, Arizona's Ak-Chin farm on a scale grand enough to make them consequential suppliers of pima cotton, while Mississippi's Choctaws manufacture wire harnesses for auto makers and run a hand-finishing facility for American Greetings. As White makes clear, means to the end of self-reliance vary widely. The Choctaws, for example, proved masters of grantsmanship. By contrast, their Down East counterparts sought the professional aid of non-Indian specialists. Although willing to apply corporate tactics, the author notes, the tribes he covered do not aspire to make a splash in the commercial mainstream; nor are they necessarily focused on creating employment opportunities. As a practical matter, White concludes, Indian leaders seek dependable sources of income chiefly to give their people the leverage to live on their own terms; they also want to provide them better education, health care (in particular, counseling for alcohol as well as drag abuse), housing, and living standards than can he obtained from federal bureaucracy. At one point, the author quotes a tribal chairman as saying, ""Traditional Navajo values do not include poverty."" An unsentimental, meet-the-neighbors introduction to Native Americans who, through their own collective efforts, have escaped both despair and the great melting pot. The engaging text has eight pages of photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Henry Holt