For more than 20 years, Native American economic development has been an important research area for PERC. That research has revealed unsettling conclusions about whether federal policies help or hurt development in Indian Country.

The fact is that tribes have limited authority over their own natural resource decisions. Tribes and individual Native Americans, for instance, generally cannot own land on reservations. Instead, reservations are managed in trust by the U.S. government in a manner that Chief Justice John Marshall described in 1831 as resembling “that of a ward to his guardian.” Still today, even the most basic land-use decisions in Indian Country are controlled by federal agencies.

By nearly all accounts, the federal government has been a poor manager of Native American assets. A recent review found that federal mismanagement, regulatory obstacles, and bureaucratic delays hindered tribal resource development, resulting in missed opportunities and lost revenue for tribes.

Yet, time and again, tribes have proven they can succeed when they are granted more authority, whether it’s managing timber, wildlife, energy, or other natural resources. Native Americans deserve the freedom to make their own decisions about the future of their land, cultures, resources, and economies — and secure property rights are the key to doing just that.