American Indian Policy: Self-Governance and Economic Development

American Indian Policy: Self-Governance and Economic Development

American Indian Policy: Self-Governance and Economic Development

American Indian Policy: Self-Governance and Economic Development


This survey of American Indian policy provides a short history of the mainly unsuccessful efforts by American Indians in the past to assert themselves, and then examines changing concepts relating to self-governance and political, economic, legal, educational, religious, and employment rights. This assessment of Indian opportunities and difficulties examines self-governance in relation to economic development, the redefinition of property rights, the status of development on Indian reservations, and the success some tribes have had in attempting to utilize their resources appropriately and more effectively.


Lyman H. Legters and Fremont J. Lyden

Throughout the two hundred years of history of the U.S. government, American Indians have been battling to regain self-governance. As Felix Cohen observed, self-governance

includes the power of an Indian tribe to adopt and operate under a form of government of the Indians' own choosing, to define conditions of tribal membership, to regulate domestic relations of members, to prescribe rules of inheritance, to levy taxes, to regulate property within the jurisdiction of the tribe, to control the conduct of members by meaningful legislation and to administer justice. (Cohen 1942, 122)

The history of these efforts is traced by Willard in chapter I of this volume. As he notes, these attempts to attain self-government have not proved very successful. In the fall of 1987, however, Ross Swimmer, assistant secretary of Indian affairs, proposed to the House Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee that a demonstration project be authorized to transfer the Bureau of Indian Affairs funds, which were presently controlling the operation of all Indian reservations, to those tribes seeking such a transfer. This proposal was based on recommendations made by the President's Commission on Reservation Economics in 1984.

Congressman Sidney Yates (D-Illinois), chairman of the subcommittee, asked Quinault president Joe DeLaCruz and Lummi tribal chairman Larry Kinley to meet with him to discuss the proposal. The tribal leaders were not supportive of the proposal, however, because it also contained a provision absolving the U.S. government of its trusteeship obligations to any tribes accepting the transfer. After this provision was removed from the proposal, the tribal leaders did express an interest.

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