Indigenous Mining Negotiations

Mining in Arizona

This project is being undertaken in partnership with Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government with support from Rio Tinto Corporation. However, the contract with the donor gives our research team complete independence regarding findings.

Indigenous communities in the United States – i.e., the 564 federally-recognized American Indian tribes – have operated since the mid-1970s under formal policies of self-determination. These translate into extensive powers of internal self-government on the 300+ US Indian reservations. US tribes are similar to US states, subject to federal law but operating under their own constitutions, administering their own judicial systems, and implementing self-managed tax and regulatory regimes. Vis-à-vis other federal, state and municipal governments, tribes expect and demand government-to-government relations, rather than the earlier role of a dependent subject to overbearing paternalism by non-Indian governments. The policies of self-determination result in extensive tribal government control over natural resource development on tribal lands.

The program of research and dissemination proposed here will identify and investigate cases of successful and failed natural resource development in the Lower 48 states – with “success” and “failure” notably defined by the respective parties themselves; and we will document and disseminate the results of the proposed research across the range from scholarly peer-reviewed work to tribal, corporate, and policy making practitioners.

A Phase II will subject the research report(s) to peer review, finalize them, and turn the research reports into one or more practitioner-aimed – corporate and tribal – “case analyses” in conflict resolution. A template for the cases will be developed that incorporates elements from business school and legal case analyses.

Our experience with such publications indicates that it is extremely useful to “vet” them via presentation and discussion before forums of stakeholders. The Harvard Project and NNI routinely present to such forums, and would do so in this case to one or more candidate venues. Candidates for presentation of the case analyses include the annual and/or mid-year meetings of the National Congress of American Indians, the RES 2011 tribal/corporate business forums of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, and various tribal finance conferences (e.g., the National American Finance Officers Association.)

In addition, subject to additional support beyond that covered by this proposal and preferably coming from multiple stakeholder funding sources, the topic of “Best Practices in Tribal-Corporate Mining Ventures” may be suitable for a Harvard Project/NNI Issues Forum. An Issues Forum is a standard venue we have used for the vetting of important topics, conducted by assembling 30-40 stakeholders for high-level, private, executive session discussion aimed at creating shared conceptions and policy options for tribes, corporations, non-tribal governments, and others. Following the “vetting” of the case analyses via the aforementioned processes, Phase II would conclude with final publication and mass (web and paper) dissemination of the document(s).

Phase III of the program proposed here will consist of the piloting of an educational curriculum drawn from Phases I and II. Such piloting will take the form of development of one or more executive education lectures suitable for use in the programs of mid-career education sponsored by the Native Nations Institute.