Before the pandemic, Indian Country’s economy was on the rise – tribal nations collectively were the 13th largest employer in the United States, powered by steady growth of tribal government gaming revenue. In the past three decades, overall per capita income of Native people on reservations had increased 48%, from tragically low poverty rates.
For tribes, a skilled and trained workforce is required to compete economically. For individuals, education is the gateway to financial stability and economic mobility. For the community, the benefits of early learning, combined with language and culture, are exponential, with the potential of stretching beyond seven generations.
In Indian Country, the pandemic revealed a huge fault line in reservation economies. For the most part, reservation jobs are highly concentrated in just two sectors – public administration and gaming-related businesses. This over-dependence on a narrow range of employers has exposed high levels of vulnerability to economic and social shocks. With the biggest benefits from jobs and paychecks, tribes need to expand the type of reservation business interests while creating a positive climate for private entrepreneurship and business development.
Secretary Haaland should highlight this vulnerability and commit to creating a positive climate for private entrepreneurship and business development.
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