Tribal Businesses

Tribally-owned businesses became fairly common after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The federal government encouraged, funded, and supervised cooperatives that sold wild rice or beadwork, for example, but these businesses were short-lived. During the War on Poverty in the 1960s and early 1970s, tribes could receive federal funds to establish “industrial parks” with water, sewer, and electrical services to attract outside investors, but non-Indian firms were reluctant to invest on reservations where they would be subject to Indian sovereignty. And the federal government was pushing manufacturing enterprises at a time when the national economy was moving toward service industries. By the 1980s and 1990s, tribes began to exert economic sovereignty, making their own decisions about the kinds of businesses they wanted and how these businesses would be managed. In the Great Lakes area, casinos opened on all the reservations, but so did a variety of other kinds of businesses, many of which now compete in a global market.

Tribal businesses operate on tribally-owned “trust” land, where the profits are not taxable by the county, state, or federal government. When land is in trust status, it cannot be used as collateral for loans for capital to start or expand a business. The tax exemption in effect serves to offset the problem tribes have in raising capital. Tribes use their own funds (from business profits, for example) or apply for planning grants to start new businesses. Today businesses are thriving, in large part because tribal members view them as culturally appropriate, supportive of their community, and under Native management. Tribal businesses provide jobs for tribal members, helping to relieve a significant unemployment and underemployment problem on reservations. The income earned on the reservation is now more likely to be spent on reservations, where tribes and individual tribal members operate gas stations, convenience stores, and other small businesses. And tribal businesses make a major contribution to the wider, local economy, often as the largest employer in the region. Tribal businesses also pay a state excise tax on products sold to non-members.

What kinds of tribally-owned businesses are there?

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LISTEN TO GAIASHKABOS, A LAC COURTE OREILLES OJIBWE LEADER, DISCUSS THE TRIBE’S OUTDOOR RECREATION RESORT. Help

6:31 mi.

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LISTEN TO MARSHALL PECORE, MENOMINEE FOREST MANAGER, DISCUSS THE TRIBE’S FORESTRY PROGRAM AND LUMBER BUSINESS. Help

9:02 mi.

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