restricted access Reservation "Capitalism": Economic Development in Indian Country by Robert J. Miller (review)
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Reservation "Capitalism": Economic Development in Indian Country. by Robert J. Miller. Praeger, 2012

To many American Indians the term "capitalism" conjures up images of colonial expansion and exploitation of tribal nations. Miller acknowledges that many Indians feel strongly that the road to commercialism will be the ruin of Indian culture, and that the Western model of capitalism is ill fitted to native traditions and cultures. However, Miller is quick to point out that "reservation capitalism" differs from Western capitalism, and he stands firm on his premise that tribal governments and individuals need to rekindle their entrepreneurial endeavors within the context of their traditional and cultural values and beliefs. He argues that for tribal governments and communities to grow sustainable tribal and individual commerce would not be contrary to cultural values and tribal traditions, but rather the best guarantor of their preservation. [End Page 123]

In response to the concern of commercialism being the destruction of Indian culture, Miller states that tribes have no alternative but to develop their community economies:

If Indian people cannot afford to live on their reservations, how will they perpetuate their reservation-based communities and tribal governments? How will they pass their cultures and languages on to new generations and how will they expose their children to tribal elders and to religious and traditional leaders? If Indians and tribal governments do not have the resources to send their citizens to quality schools and colleges, who will study and perpetuate tribal nations, cultural traditions, and tribal languages? How will tribal leaders and reservation inhabitants build lasting governments and communities without the resources and infrastructure that life requires?


Miller suggests that ultimately it will be the decision of each tribe to examine their economic expansion goals, financial and human capacities, and the protection of their cultural and traditional values as they pursue economic development.

Miller argues that American Indian tribes and tribal citizens have a heritage of being informed, commerce-oriented peoples, and had built self-sustaining communities and nations on collective and private free-trade practices long before the Europeans "discovered" the land now called America. He proposes that reclaiming their confidence of their capacity to be self-sustaining and commercially successful is occurring and gathering momentum after hundreds of years of economic eradication. If the author's intent was to guide the reader through a basic, well-sequenced historical roadmap to American Indian business propensity with the overall objective to educate, enthuse, and evoke tribes and tribal citizens of their entrepreneurial legacy, he has succeeded.

Miller recounts the historical progression of how Indian tribes and individuals were invaded, annihilated, manipulated, and legislated from living in thriving communities of free trade and flourishing business, to destruction, discouragement, and restriction of their sustained economic origins. In the introduction Miller makes his case for revitalizing the native entrepreneurial spirit for the sustainability and prosperity of Indian communities. Miller uses facts and scholarly conjectures to illustrate the thriving communities that filled the continent before Columbus's arrival, and compellingly postulates the intra- and intertribal commerce of that era.

In Miller's historical review, the U.S. federal Indian policy periods are discussed in the context of their impact on Indian commercialism. Miller presents the policy periods with explication that makes [End Page 124] it easy to follow the breakdown and destruction of native collective and individual entrepreneurship. He delineates the historical and contemporary obstacles of tribal and private enterprises on Indian reservations, a result of three hundred years of colonial and federal restriction and exploitation. The detail and clarity that Miller brings to the historical portion of his book is a noted strong point, as it is scholarly yet could be easily understood by a novice to the subject, making the book attractive for use in the classroom.

After providing a historical foundation, Miller continues his thesis by discussing the existing economic development in tribal communities. Given the diversity and quantity of current successful tribal business ventures, Miller limits himself to examine only three tribal enterprises, with no mention of any specific examples of individually owned Indian businesses. A list of such enterprises would have been a valuable addition to the book...