October 29, 2004
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Since 1975, a significant number of Indian tribes have become the effective decision-makers in their own affairs, often with strikingly positive results. This new degree of control, unprecedented in the twentieth century history of these nations, constitutes an opportunity of major proportions. It is the opportunity for Native American peoples to reenvision their futures and rebuild their governments and their economic strategies so as to realize those futures. But shaping those futures will require not simply the assertion of sovereignty, a claim to rights and powers. It will require the effective exercise of that sovereignty. The task tribes face today is to use the power they have to build viable nations before the opportunity slips away. This is the major challenge facing Indian Country today. It also is the key to solving the seemingly intractable problem of reservation poverty. Sovereignty, nation-building, and economic development go hand in hand. Without sovereignty and nation-building, economic development is likely to remain a frustratingly elusive dream.