Reservation "Capitalism"

Economic Development in Indian Country

by Robert J. Miller


American Indians are the poorest people in the United States, and their reservations are the most poverty-stricken; as a result, they suffer from numerous social pathologies that accompany these economic conditions. Tragically, most tribal communities were historically prosperous, comprising healthy, vibrant societies sustained over hundreds or thousands of years.

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March 2012


Pages 208
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Race and Ethnicity/American Indian Studies
  • Award Winner!




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This unique book investigates the history and future of American Indian economic activities and explains why tribal governments and reservation communities must focus on creating sustainable privately and tribally owned businesses if reservation communities and tribal cultures are to continue to exist.

Native American peoples suffer from health, educational, infrastructure, and social deficiencies that most Americans who live outside of tribal lands are wholly unaware of and would not tolerate. By creating sustainable economic development on reservations, however, gradual, long-term change can be effected, thereby improving the standard of living and sustaining tribal cultures.

Reservation "Capitalism": Economic Development in Indian Country supplies the true history, present-day circumstances, and potential future of Indian communities and economics. It provides key background information on indigenous economic systems and property rights regimes in what is now the United States, and explains how the vast majority of native lands and natural resource assets were lost. The book focuses on strategies for establishing privately and publicly owned economic activities on reservations and creating economies where reservation inhabitants can be employed, live, and buy the necessities of life, thereby enabling complete tribal self-sufficiency and self-determination.


  • Provides a unique historical examination of American Indian economic activities and private property rights
  • Explains how American Indian communities and governments lost the vast majority of their lands and wealth, resulting in the poverty stricken conditions that most of Indian country experiences today
  • Surveys the modern-day economic activities of tribal governments and Indian reservations, including gambling
  • Examines strategies and principles that can help reservation communities develop beneficial and sustainable economies to preserve tribal life and cultures
Author Info

Robert J. Miller is faculty director, Rosette LLP, American Indian Economic Development Program, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University. He is Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals for the Grand Ronde Tribe, and served on the board of the Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network for 12 years. Miller is a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. He is author of Praeger's Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny; several law review articles on tribal economic development issues, including Economic Development in Indian Country: Will Capitalism or Socialism Succeed?; and coauthor of Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies.



"His book is scholarly yet practical, and above all timely. It is a must-read for employees of tribal economic development departmental persons wanting more information on establishing business in tribal communities, students at tribal colleges, and those in any American Indian course that incorporates an entrepreneurial perspective."
—Wicazo Sa Review

"While Miller’s fluid style makes his book accessible to the casual reader, the level of research and its extensive endnotes make this book a viable choice as the primary text for a course on tribal economic development. Although not a legal text, Miller provides an excellent synopsis of the legal history and background necessary to understand the impediments to tribal economic development."—Great Plains Review

"This excellent scholarly volume includes enlightening history as well as analyses of present realities and the future of American Indian communities and economies. . . . This is a valuable volume for Native American studies collections and for those interested in the economic opportunities of today's Indian tribes, including business, government, and tribal leaders. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—Choice


"Robert Miller delivers first-rate advice on the politics, law, and economics of reservation development. Indian nations — indeed, all nations — can learn from this book's insights. . . . Robert Miller has pulled together an impressive range of scholarly theory, real world experiences of Native leaders, and data. As a result, this book provides a mountain of sound advice to tribal, state and federal policymakers. The advice is delivered without apology by an author who lives and respects his subject."

—Professor Joseph P. Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

"Robert Miller's Reservation Capitalism promises to be the definitive book on Native American entrepreneurship. This is both a legal and policy primer on the impact of financing contemporary business in Indian Country. Perhaps, the most original and significant impact of the book is the early and historic treatment of more than four-hundred years of interaction between the two cultures culminating in the twenty-first century economic and technological changes on reservations. Professor Miller examines the fiscal and economic tools that tribes can -- and indeed must -- use to help their people reach the level of economic prosperity that will help the Indian Nations sustain their lives, families, communities, cultures and economies."—Rennard Strickland, Phillip Knight Distinguished Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, University of Oregon and Senior Scholar in Residence, University of Oklahoma, Law Center

Miller's Reservation "Capitalism" is a manifesto of big-picture thinking about the problem of the 21st century for Indian country -- diversifying and growing reservation economies. Miller brings together law, history, economics, and culture in a brilliant work that speaks to Native and non-Native policymakers and lawyers as much as it does to scholars.
—Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Professor of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center, Michigan State University College of Law

"A remarkable book portraying the history of native peoples of North America and their struggles to maintain their century-long principles of entrepreneurship and profit-driven ventures under severe political and social atrocities. The author provided an excellent explanation of the primary events that changed the century-long existence of North American Indian people and the loss of their natural resource assets.
Today, as the author summarized, through self-determination, tribes are finding their true benefits of commerce to meet their community needs.
This book is good reading for the scholar or the layperson that understands little about Indian people."

—Stanley M. Speaks, Regional Director, Northwest Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs


2012 Outstanding Academic Title — Choice

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