Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country: Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations

Aug 15th, 1996 | By | Category: 8-2: Cultural Property Rights, Media Reviews

TILLERS GUIDE COVERedited and compiled by Veronica E. Velarde Tiller
BowArrow Publishing Company, Albuquerque, N.M., 1996, 692 pp.

Review by Sky Houser

First things first. This book belongs in every library. It’s a one-of-a-kind reference work, which attempts to provide basic and current information about every reservation, rancheria, and Alaska Native village in the United States. The authors describe climate, community facilities, education (each tribal college is identified), the local economy, climate, and location. They cite statistics on population, enrollment, land holdings, and employment. Each entry contains a brief summary of local historical and cultural information.

Source materials were drawn from tribal records– particularly those of tribal planning offices, Bureau of Indian Affairs labor force reports, telephone interviews with tribal staff, and visits to many tribal communities. Nowhere else is so much basic information gathered in one place nor made so accessible.

The authors provide introductory sections that describe in some detail the complex histories and organizational structures of California tribes and Alaska Native communities. Maps are clear and comprehensive. The structure of each entry is uniform enough to provide some basis for comparison.

The uniformity of structure, in fact, may impose a deceptive clarity on what is a considerably more murky reality. BIA labor force reports are notoriously unreliable as sources of even the most basic information about population; the BIA at one agency within three weeks produced three different official statements of the reservation’s population–12,000; 15,000; and 18,000. The definition of unemployment used in BIA and many tribal documents is quite different from that used by state and federal governments. Even U.S. Bureau of the Census information is remarkably unreliable for Indian communities, especially when compared to the more painstaking work of Statistics Canada, the equivalent agency to the north.

Dr. Tiller (Jicarilla Apache) and her colleagues have made a valiant, heroic effort simply in gathering these statistics, as anyone who has tried to assemble comparative data in Indian country will attest. But perhaps a brief introductory note in the next edition (and let us pray that there will be a next edition) could warn the unwary reader about some of the more serious limitations of what otherwise appear to be cold, hard facts.

A second edition might also correct a few oversights and lapses in emphasis. The Omaha Tribe, for example, is mentioned in the index, but the entry for the tribe has gone astray, along with most of the entry for the Santee Sioux. The Rosebud Reservation, population 12,783, rates an entry of 9 column inches; the entry for the Montgomery Creek Rancheria, population 8, rates 23 column inches.

So the book is not perfect. It is, however, wonderful– clearly and concisely written, accessible, and easy to use. Dr. Tiller and her colleagues are to be thanked, congratulated–and encouraged to keep going.

Sky Houser has been involved with tribal colleges since 1975.

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