Tribal Economies: Water Settlements, Agriculture, and Gaming in the Western U.S.
Author: Suhina Deol and Bonnie Colby,Issue #163
This paper examines patterns in water rights quantification, agriculture, gaming, and economic characteristics across selected Native American nations in the United States (U.S.) to provide a perspective across tribal nations and regions. A unique set of data was analyzed, drawing from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, court decrees, water rights data, and other sources. Fifty‐one tribal nations are included in this study, based on availability of data on agricultural and economic indicators. Data analysis indicates the following: 1) tribes with quantified water rights also have higher agricultural revenue, 2) tribes which have quantified their water rights are more likely to also operate a casino, 3) tribes which have quantified their water rights tend to be more commonly located close to major cities, and 4) tribes which operate at least one casino have notably higher annual household income compared to tribes which do not. A number of interesting regional differences are observed: 1) Northwest tribes have significantly higher rates of water quantification than other regions, 2) Midwest tribes have the highest prevalence of casino operations compared to the other areas, and 3) the Southwest has the smallest proportion of tribes with casino operations. This paper identifies patterns across multiple tribal nations and across regions, and does not focus on establishing cause‐and‐effect. Causal relationships among tribal water quantification, farming, gaming, income levels, and unemployment will vary by location and tribe. Identifying cause and effect among different components of tribal economic development warrants further inquiry. The examination of patterns presented here illuminates interesting differences among tribal nations and regions, and provides a broad context for tribal leaders how best to cultivate sustainable, resilient economies and water resource management.