President’s Dream Colloquium: Robert Miller on indigenous economic development

Apr 10, 2014

Taking steps towards economic development in indigenous communities would appear to be solely beneficial to all concerned. Yet often when the subject is raised, many of those concerned have reservations. Why would something with implicit positive connotations raise such doubts?

Robert Miller, Professor of Law at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University, discussed this conundrum in the final installment of the President’s Dream Colloquium on Entrepreneurship, a series of free public lectures intended to create an interdisciplinary forum for dialogue between faculty members, students and diverse community groups.

In addition to his lecture as part of the President’s Dream Colloquium on Entrepreneurship, Miller held a similar session exclusively for Beedie faculty and staff at the Segal Graduate School, which involved a dialogue and breakout sessions that resulted in lively discussion on the topic.

An expert in civil procedure, federal Indian law, American Indians and international law, American Indian economic development and Native American natural resources, Miller is also an enrolled citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and a member of the Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network (ONABEN).

Opening the lecture, “The Role of Entrepreneurship in Achieving Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples”, Miller explained that although he was an expert in US Indigenous peoples, rather than Canadian, much of his knowledge was directly transferrable.

It is nigh on impossible to talk about Indigenous economic development in the US without someone arguing that such a thing is anti-Indian culture. In order to win the doubters over, Miller explained that you must address their concerns head on.

“Of course economic activities have impacts – but if we can no longer afford to live on our reservations because we are too poor, have no housing, and no access to quality education, then what does that do to the native culture,” he asked. “If your middle class families cannot live on your reservation, they are going to live in Vancouver, or Phoenix, for example. How does that help the tribal community improve itself and perpetuate itself?”

Citing the statistic that 86% of Indian reservations have no bank facilities within 100 miles – meaning many are unable to open even a basic chequing account – Miller stressed that work is needed to ensure Indigenous peoples have the platform to develop their economies.

“I think doing nothing is literally worse than working towards creating economies on our reservations,” he said. That Is not selling out, but not doing so is injuring your own economy by making it not possible to live on your own reservation.”

To this end, Miller went on to examine recent developments surrounding Indigenous entrepreneurship and explored potential benefits and impacts of Indigenous entrepreneurship on Indigenous communities and cultures.

For more information on the President’s Dream Colloquium on Entrepreneurship, including all web recordings of the lectures, visit www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/events/dreamcolloquium/DreamColloquium-Spring2014.html