The Indian Country Today Media Network has published Part One of Gabe Galanda's three-part series, "Attack on the Tribal Middle Class."
No matter what the growing “Occupy Wall Street” movement seeks to accomplish, it has struck a nerve. Members of the American middle class are losing jobs, homes and savings because of the greed and carelessness of “too-big-to-fail” banks. Meanwhile “the country’s six largest financial institutions . . . now have amassed assets equal to more than 60% of our gross domestic product” (The Guardian). That wealth is not trickling down. According to a recent international study, the United States has the fourth highest income inequality rate per capita – trailing only Chile, Mexico and Turkey.
Make no mistake, the American middle class is hurting. Yet while the non-Indian middle class is at least being considered for U.S. governmental support, the tribal middle class – no stranger to the acute pains of economic recession or income inequality – faces rising attack by state and federal government.
Generally speaking, the middle class is comprised of persons with regular, formal employment, a salary and some benefits, and a reasonable amount of discretionary income – in other words, people who are not living hand-to-mouth. As one economist explains, the middle class are “people who are not resigned to a life of poverty, who are prepared to make sacrifices to create a better life for themselves but who have not started with life’s material problems solved because they have material assets to make their lives easy” (The Economist).
While innumerable Indians still live in abject poverty (despite Indian gaming), an increasing number of tribal citizens are now firmly part of the middle class as a result of hard work and sacrifice. This three-part series explores the tribal middle class, beginning below with a discussion of its genesis, which ironically was the result of federal policies that sought to destroy Indian America. Part Two will consider the emergence of a distinctly tribal middle class, including the tribal small business/private sector, as a consequence of Indian self-determination policy. Part Three will examine the rising national attack on the tribal middle class and how Indian Country might countervail that attack.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via galandabroadman.com.