Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

May 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


As editor of the 1992 Property Rights and Indian Economics, Terry L. Anderson wrote that Native Americans need to be in control of their own lives to experience success. Tribal sovereignty, he argued, is the key to leaving poverty behind. Anderson, an economics professor at Montana State University, addresses this issue more directly in Sovereign Nations or Reservations? In each chapter he examines age-old questions about Native American concepts of property rights, law, economics, and the ever changing relationships between Native Americans and Anglo-Europeans.

Anderson considers the general relationship among property rights, culture, and economic activity. Discussing Native American law prior to European contact, he concludes that while somewhat decentralized in character, its scarcity of formal institutions in no way implies that Native Americans lacked rules, citing several examples of Native American institutions enforcing order. Importantly, he emphasizes that Native American societies were "far from static," stating that tribes adapted to face changing conditions after Anglo-Europeans arrived.