Though today’s Native Americans are one of today’s poorest American minorities, they were not poor under their “traditional economies.” Their modern poverty is the result of the “colonial indigenous economies” that rob American Indians of many freedoms other Americans enjoy. “Renewing indigenous economies” means recognizing Native Americans’ rights to be American with their own jurisdiction, sovereignty, property ownership, and the freedom to trade. These are the “ideas defining a free Native American society.”

This series of Defining Ideas essays is aimed at a better understanding of how Native American heritage provides a foundation on which tribes can restore meaningful sovereignty and renew their economies.

Traditional Indigenous Economies
Honoring Native American heritage begins with realizing that “old indigenous economies” were built of tribal jurisdiction, governance structures, property ownership, and trade. Old indigenous economies offer examples of “ideas defining a free society.”

Colonial Indigenous Economies
Unfortunately, old indigenous economies were supplanted with “colonial indigenous economies” that made tribes and individual Indians wards of the state in the eyes of the United States Government.

Renewed Indigenous Economies
Extracting themselves from colonial bondage will require that tribes “renew indigenous economies” by clearly defining tribal jurisdictions, establishing new governance structures built on the rule of law and tribal heritage, and securing property rights (both collective and individual) that help tribes fully participate in and benefit from the modern, global economy. 

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