Economic Development on U.S. Native American Reservations: A Case Study of the Tribes of Florida

Diane Benitez, Florida International University


Unlike most native American reservations in the United States, the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes in Florida are more economically developed. The purpose of this research is to understand this economic development process of the tribes in Florida. Accordingly, there are three key questions guiding this study: What have been the priorities of the Native American reservation population in conceptualizing sustainable economic development? What external institutional factors have enabled or hindered economic development on Native American reservations? What internal tribal governance factors affected sustainable economic development on Native American reservations? I interviewed Seminole and Miccosukee tribe members and leaders to obtain insights into the research questions. I conducted 42 such interviews, spanning tribal council members, tribal members residing in the reservations and off the reservations, and others working directly with the tribes. My main findings are as follows. The Seminoles as well as Miccosukee have emphasized education as important. They actively practice their sovereignty, taking independent decisions on their development priorities, including education and environment. They take their own economic development decisions, without depending on extensive federal assistance. Moreover, they have successfully managed their gaming operations to the benefit of their members, in supplying education, healthcare, and other operations generally undertaken by municipalities. Internally, there are key differences between the Miccosukee and Seminoles. Whereas the Seminoles seek integration with the mainstream economy (for example, they own the Hard Rock Cafe, a large international franchise), the Miccosukee have been focused on their local ecology to sustain their environment. Governance wise, the Seminoles have a structurally sophisticated internal governance structure, whereas the Miccosukee model is smaller, grassroots-based. From a policy perspective, the main finding is that the tribes be allowed to exercise their sovereignty to fulfill their own economic development goals. External federal and state government relationships should be based on mutual respect and reciprocity in relationships. Distrust could be inimical to the tribes’ economic progress. Support should be provided to the tribes to develop their own governance structures appropriate to their economic development priorities.

Subject Area

Public administration|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Benitez, Diane, "Economic Development on U.S. Native American Reservations: A Case Study of the Tribes of Florida" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI27736457.