American Indians Today/Economies and sources of income

Economy and sources of income


The economic situation of the American Indians is quite variable and depending on the location, for example the average payment level in the reservations only lies at about 57% of the American Indian's wages in the cities. But today an American Indian can choose by right each job he likes and those who have the necessary higher education are working as doctors, teachers, judges, scientists, etc. or as social workers and policemen (especially in their own reservations).

The US Census of 2000 shows that less American Indians than white Americans work in the executive floors like in management and professional. But there are several firms and enterprises held by American Indians (about 200.000, the most of them in New York City, Los Angeles and Gallup, New Mexico), which often serve in construction work or repair and maintenance services and offer a lot of jobs for other American Indians.

American Indians without secondary education or any education at all often work as day laborers and/or move between the different farms and plantations, because in the reservations the job situation rarely offers vacancies.

The Native Americans in the reservations also make several profit out of their tribal land, for example they are allowed to rent it to industry and enterprises or private tenants, and they are free to pursue farming, stock-breeding, fishing and hunting. They also make use of their natural resources as wind power, timber and water power, but also petroleum, natural gas and uranium which is sold to the government or to companies of the energy industry. These organize the output in most cases and in return offer jobs for the American Indians (for example miners in the Navajo reservation).

Another important source of income is tourism: the sale of arts and crafts as souvenirs, wellness hotels, ski slopes and other sports like backpacking, as well as museums and other cultural centers where sometimes reenactments of American Indian battles or the historical daily life are presented to tourists (with the possibility to be entertained as well as to join).



Closely linked with tourism is the business of the American Indian casinos which is the best known aspect of American Indian economy nowadays. In 1988 the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a special governmental law, opened up this source of income for the American Indians and allowed them to offer traditional Indian gaming and the lighter forms of gambling, such as bingo.

This development aid, which rescued many tribes out of their poverty (for example the Fort-Mohave, who once had been one of the poorest tribes in the USA, have built eleven casinos and luxury hotels), has caused a kind of economic miracle for the American Indians: they own about 400 casinos and bingo centers in 130-160 reservations, the biggest resort casino in the world and the biggest casino in the whole USA is Foxwoods of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut. Most of the other “new buffalo" are quite small but as a whole they yield about 20 Billion US-Dollars a year and offer jobs for half a million people, also non-Indians.

This great economical impact can be attributed to the fact that the USA have very strict rules concerning the gambling industry and in most states any kind of gambling is forbidden. But with the American Indian areas being quite independent from state's law and actually being no state territory, these prohibitions are not in force inside the reservations. Therefore the American Indians almost possess the total monopoly on gaming in the USA and it is not surprising that their main customers are Whites who bring a lot of money to the accounts of the reservation's casinos, hotels, gas stations and local business.

The casinos are subject of regular inspections by the National Indian Gaming Commission, which checks the observance to the official Gaming Regulations.

New ideas


However, the modern sources of income such as mass tourism, the sale of natural resources and casinos are controversial among the American Indians. Some tribes (for example the Navajo, the Hopi and the Winnemem Wintu) reject and boycott the casinos, being thoroughly convinced that this business threatens their American Indian culture. Furthermore the output of natural resources destroys or at least endangers the reservation's nature and wildlife.

Therefore and because of fear that the success could end some day, many chiefs and heads of tribal governments are searching for other options to make money and in general many tribes try to promote their traditional economic methods: for example some tribes are busy on re-naturalizing mustangs, wapiti, elks and buffalo as their traditional food. A new idea developed in the recent years is the operation of renewable resources and sustainable energy and sources of income which are and less dependent on grants and foreign interests. So gaming, land leasing and mass tourism are only considered as transitional economy which helps to give the actual objectives a start.