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Native American Economics


There are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States. Native American land holdings equate to over 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates, approximately 2% of U.S. landmass, which is domiciled within 48 states [1]. If you include the First Nations of Canada and the Native American Alaskan Communities the total North American landmass owed by tribes is roughly 4%.   Within the U.S. Constitution, Indian Nations are recognized as sovereign governments. This designation has been consistently reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, by Presidential Executive Order, and by the U.S. Government.  One of the most important landmark legislations for Native American Tribes was the Reorganization Act of 1934 (“IRA”), also known as the Howard-Wheeler Act, and sometimes referred to  as the “Indian New Deal.” This federal legislation secured certain rights to Native Americans (known in law as American Indians or Indians), including Alaska Natives. Its sole purpose was  to restore Indian tribes to a position of self-governance and laid out new rights to Native Americans and reversed some of the earlier privatization of their common holdings. As a result, treaties and laws have been created that provide a fundamental framework between the Indian Nations and the United States and even individual states, commonly referred to as state-tribal compacts. Tribal self-governance ensures that the Indian Nations remain a viable and distinct group of people in order to preserve tribal culture and create a tribal economic base that would provide longevity and growth of its people.


Section 17 of the IRA  gave Tribes the power to create a federally chartered corporation in order to facilitate business transactions and foster tribal economic development. Unlike the traditional business corporations, Section 17 corporations are endowed with certain privileges such as:


  • Exemption from Federal and State Tax
  • Sovereign Immunity – the inability to be sued – unless specifically waived
  • Non-adherence to State Law
  • Special consideration for Government and Diversity contract rewards
  • Special legislative access
  • Preferential access to Federal grants


[1] U.S. Department of Interior, Budget Justification, 2015