Native Americans and Their Role in Today’s Economy

Native Americans and Their Role in Today’s Economy December 2021

Native Americans and Their Role in Today’s Economy

European settlement of North America began in 1492. In over 500 years since then, Native Americans have gone from being the primary inhabitants of the continent to being decimated by the diseases imported from abroad, being deprived of their land, society, and culture, and being treated like second rate citizens of the land that was originally theirs to finally receiving some recognition of who and what they are.

However, that recognition is still very narrow and limited. Most people view Native Americans as people who are Americans but not the same as those of European descent. The image of the Native American today is one of a person who lives on tribal land, believes in spirits, worship totem poles, and is becoming rich from the profits of the casinos built on tribal land. These stereotypes may have some element of truth, but that is no different from the adherence to cultural traditions that Americans of Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Asian descent still adopt. Native Americans are today part of the mainstream and their contribution to the American economy is limited but significant.

The Economic Contribution of Native Americans

The Native American workforce is young, educated, and growing. It is a workforce with vast potential that is eager to prove its capabilities. Despite this, people of aboriginal descent continue to experience unemployment at rates much higher than the national average. The reasons for this include economic conditions, inadequate infrastructure, endemic poverty, and limited opportunities for higher education.

In 2009, the book “Challenges to Native American Advancement: The Recession and Native America” was released. It shed some light on the obstacles that hindered Native Americans from making a greater contribution to the economic growth of this country. In the years since then, a great deal has been spoken about the need to open doors to the tribal people, but the ground reality is that very little has actually been done.

What is clear is that the potential for Native American contribution to economic growth has been severely limited by their disenfranchisement. This is not history but present-day reality. The time has now come for the United States to take decisive action to enable the people whose land is the foundation of this country to be part of the economic mainstream.

There are 5 key areas listed in the 2009 publication that remain the basis for the country to benefit from the increased participation of Native Americans in the economy:

  • Improve Native American census data collection
  • Increase Native American federal aid
  • Overhaul the Indian Health Service
  • Channel federal and state funds through tribal government
  • Target Native American job creation