CARTER 6-12-2012 Writer for the Journal Record (M. Scott, “Former chief: Economic development crucial to tribes' future, sovereignty in Oklahoma”, 2012, Journal Record, Proquest)
Oklahoma's tribal nations should push economic development not just for jobs, but to secure and protect their tribal sovereignty, the formerchief of the Cherokee Nation said Tuesday. Speaking at the state's annual Sovereignty Symposium at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, former Chief Chad Smith said the true value of economic development was tribal sovereignty and self-determination. "Over the decades, we've seen treaties, 23 of them, which were supposed to protect our rights," Smith said. "Step by step, the federal government has taken those rights away." And because of this interference, Smith said, the culture of tribal nations is being jeopardized. Smith, who served three terms as principal chief of the Cherokees, urged tribal representatives to make economic development a priority. "Economic development gives tribes the ability to protect their sovereignty," he said. Once known as Indian Territory, Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized Indian tribes. Records show that three Oklahoma cities, Tulsa, Norman and Oklahoma City, are listed among the top five cities in the nation with the highest percentage of Native American or Alaska Native residents. Additionally, Native American businesses continue to have a major economic impact on the country, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The United States, the agency said, is home to more than 237,000 Native American businesses that generate almost $35 billion in revenue. And those same businesses employmore than115,000 workers. "Economic development is one of the most important things a tribe can do, saidRobert J. Miller, a professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School. "If a tribal member can't find a jobthat pays a living wage, how are they going to support themselves?" Miller said. "How will we make it into the next 1,000 years?" For too long, he said, tribal leaders and even tribal members, themselves, have recoiled from the word capitalism. "Indian culture is not opposed to economic development," he said. "But there are native people who recoil from the word capitalism and we must change that." Miller said many people live under the false impression that tribal nations are like socialists and that holding private property is discouraged. "The only thing Indians had in common was land," he said. "And as long as you used your land, it was as if it were private property." And tribes, he said, understand business. "We know how to run businesses and how to support ourselves," he said. "We've been doing it for thousands of years." The Sovereignty Symposium continues through Wednesday.