Press "Enter" to skip to content

Minneapolis Fed Working on Reservation Economy… But Capitalism Not Religion for Tribes

Well, we obviously can’t elect Rand Paul President. He’ll End the Fed, and that will kill economic development on the reservations. Paul hates Indians!

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is creating a new Center for Indian County Development. The Minneapolis Fed, which serves the Ninth Federal Reserve District covering Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the Michigan U.P., wants to undo the intergenerational poverty we imposed on our Indian neighbors as we rolled across the Plains:

“It’s not just that incomes have been very low on reservations for decades,” [Minneapolis Fed President Narayana] Kocherlakota said in his prepared remarks. “We now have large-scale and very current evidence of poverty persisting across generations within individual families. … This persistence represents a social and economic failure to develop the full productive and human potential of many of our children.”

…The stage for poverty among American Indians was set in the 19th century, Kocherlakota said in the speech Friday at the Federal Reserve System Community Development Research Conference. Indians were forced to move to remote areas, their cultures were suppressed, their land taken away and their affairs controlled by federal bureaucrats.

“Not surprisingly, economic development lagged on most reservations, leaving them as pockets of extreme rural poverty and underdevelopment,” Kocherlakota said [Adam Belz, “Minneapolis Fed Plans Center for Indian Reservation Development,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2015.04.07].

Kocherlakota has a bead on South Dakota’s four big reservations. Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock are among the 25 “commuting zones” (out of 709 in the country) with the lowest intergenerational income mobility.

Poverty clearly contributes to the despair on our reservations that leads to problems like higher suicide rates among tribal youth. Alleviating that poverty will alleviate (though not single-handedly solve) other problems. But a Minneapolis Fed report from October 2014 warns economic developers that they’ll have to take a different approach on the reservations. Experts from the Center for Indian Country Development can’t just walk in and say, “Hey! Who wants to make money?” because, unlike South Dakota’s white political leadership, a lot of Indian folks don’t put money and business über alles:

…for Native Americans growing up on reservations, suffice to say that not all decisions are financial ones. Roughly a dozen sources on the Rosebud and Cheyenne River reservations were virtually unanimous in their belief that more tribal members are returning after a spell off the reservation, most often from a spiritual calling or a duty to their tribal family.

According to [South Dakota instructor and blogger Ann-erika] White Bird, who moved from Denver, “for me, part of it is spiritual. … The one thing I really like is that capitalism isn’t the religion here. … You can figure out a way to make it, and people will help you along the way. If you are homeless and your family can’t help you, you can always go to the tribe. I appreciate that culture of generosity,” she said. Of course, not every tribal member acts in such a way, she said, “but the understanding of how we should be is still there. That’s why I live here” [Ronald A. Wirtz, “Calling Home,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: FedGazette, 2014.10.22].

That focus on something other than capitalism doesn’t mean folks on the reservation won’t work with Fed experts to improve educational outcomes, housing, and job options in their community. But developers coming to the reservation need to keep in mind that important difference in worldview. The Center for Indian Country Development will need to remember that the point of their work is not simple economic development measured by dollar metrics. Instead, they must look at a larger set of values and integrate economic projects into the overall quality of life on the reservation.

But the Minneapolis Fed is trying to help, and they will bring the smartest economic experts around to help the tribes improve their people’s opportunities. Rand, don’t touch the Fed!


  1. larry kurtz 2015-04-14 08:05

    In agriculture and finance, North Dakota, more than any other state, has proven itself to be a living example of how public ownership benefits far more and is more profitable than other privately-owned entities in those industries. All concerned Americans scratching their heads on how to fight back against Wall Street need only look to North Dakota’s embrace of socialism for a solution.

  2. Porter Lansing 2015-04-14 11:36

    Although Lakotah and Dakotah tribes aren’t as ag-centric as say Navajo tribbes the opportunity for large scale cannabis cultivation in greenhouses on reservations is massive. Colorado, Washington and Alaska are needing product and the go ahead has been given by Washington for exploring this opportunity.

  3. larry kurtz 2015-04-14 11:40

    Who would ensure those greenhouses, Mr. Lansing? Or deliver seed or clones? Or bank the proceeds?

  4. larry kurtz 2015-04-14 11:43

    ensure the greenhouses are insured, rather….

  5. larry kurtz 2015-04-14 11:45

    Imagine the tribes hiring H-2A or H-2B migrants to work the fields: the SDGOP would have a collective cow.

  6. Bill Dithmer 2015-04-14 13:54

    Porter Lansing, what you are saying is true but the chairman of th OST has already said “not on his watch.”

    The Blindman

  7. MD 2015-04-14 14:01

    Larry, are you suggesting that the tribes establish more collective style industries such as North Dakota has done for their grain and banking?
    I could see that being an idea that fits well within many Native American cultures. For instance, developing the potential for a collective industrial hemp industry as well as owning the means of production could be one potential avenue for development.

    I loved the article, I am glad people aside from the humanitarian minded in states with high Native American populations are taking notice. There is a solution out there, we just need enough people to devote enough to find it. An idea of a start could be visiting the tribes and visiting with children about what they would like to see different in their communities. Even if only one idea that comes out of a visit is feasible and brought to fruition, the potential impact and boost for the collective self-worth could be immense, especially among a population that is experiencing such an epidemic of hopelessness.

  8. leslie 2015-04-14 14:06

    the Indians have highly trained, excellent private and public financial people who likely have their own ideas about the matters mentioned above. paternalism is highly distrusted, not to say that their modern collaboration with the feds at Justice or The Fed right now fits that old mold. the Indians now what is best for their own interests.

    we need to model OUR congress after their old tribal system of elder wisdom (c.f. rep. noem, ex-rep. arron schock (ill.) and even Harvard law trained combat vet/letter writer tom cotton)(that boy got USED by a couple of high power republican dysfunctional law-makers)!!

  9. leslie 2015-04-14 14:07


  10. Bill Dithmer 2015-04-14 14:28

    From the time I read Corys original post I’ve been reading the links. It seems that the Fed in their daa fastion have come to the right conclusion. The laws in regulations that the different reservations live by will have to be brought into alignment with that of the people around them. Its strange that it took so long when everyone else that tried to do business there knew that years ago.

    Also of interest to me is the fact that while the model that the fed is usung, and has been emplamented for several years, has zero data to further their cause. The person in charge of this said that economic success couldnt be measured in monitary terms because the native culture didnt work in that way. That is bullshit. I dont know of a single native that doesnt use money, and just like the rest of us their quest in life is for enough money to make life better for their families.

    The OST had a real chance at financial freedom from the federal government by raising hemp, and cannabis but chose to keep going down the same path. I really can’t fault em for that, after all things are so good now why bother.

    On a brighter note. We wrote the biggest check ever written on our bank account this morning and it went to the US government. We made a decision when we sold the ranch that all debts would be paid and someone down the road shouldnt have to pay to inherit what we have already paid for. There will be no 1031s for us, our kids, or our grandkids. Oh ya, that check was for just over $500,000. I hope the troops appreciate our contribution.

    The Blindman

  11. Douglas Wiken 2015-04-14 15:02

    Bill, and I was bitching about we dump into fed, local, and state taxes. You make us look like pikers. Wish I could say I was happy with what we get in return, but I am not a pollyanna.

  12. Bill Dithmer 2015-04-14 15:22

    DW, I’m not bitching about paying taxes, I’m bitching about how there spent.

    The Blindman

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-14 17:37

    Holy cow Blindman! That’s a lotta moola!

    I feel the same about paying taxes. Yeah, I’ll do it because it’s my duty to my country. I just don’t want it spent stupidly.

  14. Douglas Wiken 2015-04-14 18:11

    Deb, Bill, What you say is what Retrograde Republicans don’t seem to understand. Liberals and progressives do not want taxpayer money wasted. Retrogrades claim to be conservative but will shower the rich with tax breaks and subsidies and then claim it is only to generate jobs for the unrich….but it never works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.