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44 Tulsa Law Review 383 (2008)


Tribal commerce created the current highways that stretch from coast-to-coast in North America today. The roads that are traveled by semi-trucks full of cargo, grocery produce, and all manner of commercial goods are on top of the ancient trade routes Natives have traveled for centuries. Unfortunately, the history and sophistication of Native commercial activities have been largely suppressed and left out of the story of the North American continent as Euro-Americans rewrote the continent’s history to reflect the glorification of colonization. The truth is that there was no need for the 'rugged pioneer' to cut through tall grass to head out West, rather Euro-Americans followed the well-traveled paths connecting commerce centers and village areas of Native peoples as they set about seizing land for their own interests.

This article will take an in-depth look at the Native trading centers pre-European colonization and the internationalist focus of Native trade up until the U.S. implemented a policy of treaty abrogation to the detriment of Tribal Nations. Over the course of the last two centuries from the late 1800s through the late 1900s, the United States government has sought to undermine Tribal nationhood, commercial activity, and prosperity. U.S. policies have led to the high rise in poverty, disease, and shortened life expectancy of the tribal citizens on this continent. In recent years, U.S. law has provided limited remedial measures which Tribal Nations have utilized to create opportunities to rebuild the historic prosperity once known on this continent by Native peoples. These developments will be traced to demonstrate the growing measures being employed by Tribal Nations to re-enter international commerce and restore the high quality of life for tribal citizens.

In Part I, the trade routes and commercial relations in mid-North America prior to the formation of the United States will be examined. This examination will demonstrate the sophistication of Native commerce within the balanced philosophy of the tribalist economic theory. Part II will explore the trading interactions with the United States and the attendant restraints to Tribal economic prosperity that resulted. Detailed within this section will be the U.S. eras of Indian policy that have resulted in oftentimes shifting sands for Tribal Nations to navigate in order to rebuild Tribal prosperity. As U.S. federal laws matured into providing remedial measures for Tribal economic activity to resume, Part III will set forth those federal avenues available in contemporary commerce for Tribal Nations. Part IV will provide a perspective on the future economic development of Tribal Nations consistent with the tribalist economic theory and a return to broad Native prosperity in mid-North America.