Two Views on Economic Development
1. Building Jobs for a Better Future
What will it take to make a world of difference for Native Americans? Jobs! Jobs that provide a fulfilling and meaningful way of life. And not just jobs making souvenirs for tourists. Many reservations have unemployment rates of 50 to 70 percent while the current average for the U.S. is under 5 percent.
The endless poverty cycle must be broken! But how? How are new jobs created? Mainly by entrepreneurs with a great idea, who find capital to start a business and customers for their product or service. In the process they create jobs—enough in just 10 years for half of all the workers in the state of California.
Increasingly, the new jobs are being created by young entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal recently reported in a special section on “The Faces of a New Generation” that, “Entrepreneurs don’t just seem younger these days, they are younger.” Two-thirds of 14 to 19-year-olds have expressed the desire to start a business. Forty percent of college students and recent graduates said they would prefer to work in a start-up company or be self-employed.
What does this have to do with Native American unemployment? Young Native Americans can learn the basics of business and entrepreneurship—providing them the same opportunities as any other American. Native American teenagers presently drop out of school at an alarming rate and commit suicide at two to three times the rate of other youth. All this is largely due to a deep sense of hopelessness. They see no future for themselves beyond what their parents, grandparents and ancestors have endured for centuries. We must bring them a new sense of hope.
A new non-profit organization, Indian Nations Economic Empowerment (INEE),1 was recently formed for the purpose of introducing programs on business into Indian schools, programs that use the Junior Achievement (JA) curricula for multiple age levels. Three million American children are involved each week in J.A. programs, usually taught by volunteers from local businesses. Discussions are underway to start the pilot programs this year in Southern California Indian Centers in various cities and in the Sherman Indian High School, Riverside, California.
An important part of teaching business and entrepreneurship is understanding the critical first step of writing a business plan. A business plan competition between students could provide stimulus for them to start thinking seriously about a company they might start. A micro-enterprise loan fund could be established, providing the most promising budding entrepreneurs with seed capital.
Small business incubators, with 20 to 30 offices, could be constructed on or adjacent to Indian reservations so that the start-up businesses will have the right kind of environment to grow in. The Small Business Administration of the Federal government has ample loan guarantees specifically for Native Americans, providing assistance in their financing of equipment and operations as these businesses move up to the next plateau. The cost of the foregoing is nominal—especially when compared with the huge welfare subsidies from the Federal government which serve only to perpetuate welfarism and hopelessness among Native Americans.
Willi Adams, a Methodist Indian elder of the Creek tribe and member of the board of directors of INEE, believes that when the proposed program gets underway and can show the California Tribal Council what its potential is, they will look favorably upon the investment of a portion of their casino profits in the furtherance of this program because of what it represents for the future of all Native Americans—jobs, meaningful and satisfying jobs, created by new, Native American-owned businesses.
A Native American Success Story
A fantastic success story is that of the Chocktaw tribal chief in Mississippi. He was able to get a contract from Ford Motor Company for the manufacture of electrical harnesses for their cars and trucks. His people were trained to carry out the work. It became a thriving business, employing 2000 Native Americans.
Then Ford decided that the prices were not competitive with prices in Mexico. The chief moved the entire business to Mexico and employed as many Mexican Indians as he could. Soon, the business was generating $200 million in sales.
Yet tribal people back in Mississippi were now so skilled that new jobs could be found at a much higher pay scale than they had previously received working on the Ford parts. This kind of success story must be repeated many times over for all of the Indian nations and tribes to become self-sufficient.
The early Church Council at Jerusalem urged apostles Paul and Barnabus to “not forget the poor,” to which Paul replied “and with this I was, of course, only too ready to agree” (Gal. 2:10, J.B. Phillips). May we look upon the poor of our First American cousins and seek to lift them out of that poverty cycle by taking the initiative to help them now. Their interest in the Gospel of the White invaders of their land will be forever limited until the love of Christ is manifested in our enabling them to share in the fruits of this great land, their land.
- Contact for INNE: (626) 797-5008
- Compassionate Community ... or Unchecked Greed?
There is an amazing incongruency in the Christian community development mission field. Perhaps it has always existed and has been ignored. Maybe it is just now coming to light under the intensifying public scrutiny of globalization.
This incongruency is perhaps best represented in the still evident and most disturbing expression of colonial mission there isthe stunning and very ethnocentric notion that technological, financial and material "progress" is the hallmark of a truly civilized society. Not only, claim its advocates, is this to be sought after but is to be procured on Western terms and embraced as the ultimate goal of a "developed" society.
How disturbing it is that those of us in Christian development often embrace the same philosophy and practice it so eagerlyas if it were the ultimate goal of Christian mission. It is frequently expressed that economic prosperity is evidence of God's blessing. This would be difficult for the millions of faithful, theologically conservative, spiritually vibrant yet monetarily poor Christians in the developing world to believe. It is worth noting the vast majority of the body of Christ today live in the developing world.
The gap between rich and poor still exists. In fact, it is widening at an increasing rate despite the assurances of the World Bank and the G7 that there is overall improvement in the human condition worldwide.
We should not abandon our world-view in favor of one that has yet to demonstrate its Biblical superiority.
Sadly, those of us in the indigenous community seem to be buying it hook, line and, sinker! MBA's are being churned out in Indian Country faster than the social work and legal degrees of the past decades ever were. It is as if we believe the tale that everyone can win and no one will lose. The battle against assimilation is being conceded on a selective front. We are being lured where we could not be forcedbuying into an economic world-view so foreign that it didn't even register as a remote possibility to our ancestors.
The cultural development heritage of First Nations peoplea heritage that preserved seven generationsis being replaced by economic security for the next one (or, at most, for the next two generations). Given the state of anxiety over the globalized economy and the decreased power of governments to act to stop it, why do we who have done so well in resisting earlier attempts to assimilate us into the culture of the colonials now capitulate when economists and business leaders make similar efforts?
Can we change it? Should we? These and other questions must be addressed if we are to say with integrity in the coming days that we have maintained the resistance to assimilation and have been faithful in promoting the indigenous world-view. This may be precisely what God has called the First Nations and other indigenous peoples center stage to do.
Our culture and heritage ought to be exploited for the best possible purposes, not just for ourselves, but for others also. This means that we should not abandon our world-view in favor of one that has yet to demonstrate its Biblical superiority. Instead, it has demonstrated that it is just as capable of grave injustice as any other. Do we think we can do better at mastering the ship of free enterprise with economic skills and values that are so foreign to us? Casinos and the cross-border cigarette trade would seem to indicate otherwise.
Time after time, we read of the graft and greed of our own leadership on and off reserve as they misuse and mishandle finances and misdirect the affairs of the community. Is not scripture clear that it will not be the weak or poor of the world who will oppress, but the rich and powerful?
Let us be clear about this: Community development is a good thing. It is desirable to provide for opportunity, to give hope and a reason for being, for health and growth and stability. It honors God when we invest His gifts well and bring forth abundance out of our careful stewardship of them. But, when, under the rubric of development, we disguise unchecked greed for bigger and better and more of Western free enterprise and big business we do a grave disservice to our fellow human beings. More importantly, we bury one of the gifts that the Lord of the universe has, I believe, entrusted to us as a peoplethe gift of environmental foresight.
Traditional people in Native North America talk of the two roadsthe road of technology (clearly encompassing free enterprise) and the road of the spiritual. While they do not dismiss the use of technology and modern ways as entirely unspiritual, they make it clear that it is driving out any sense of the spiritual from the lives of people. How is it that we who possess the promised Holy Spirit cannot see more clearly than they, the evils of the road of unbridled free enterprise and development?