Research Seminar: Sam Schirvar

Research Seminar: Sam Schirvar

“Home and Hands”: Cherokee Nation and the Turn to Tribal Enterprise


Virtual Event
January 17 2024
Time 12 PM
Registration for this event is via Eventbrite.

This paper analyzes the causes and consequences of the turn to tribal enterprise as a reservation economic development strategy during the 1970s. Over 345 factories were built on or near reservations to employ Indigenous workers during the 1960s and 1970s. Less than a dozen of these firms were tribally-owned by 1970. In contrast, by 1979, over two thirds of the manufacturing facilities operating on reservations were Native-owned, many by tribes. I argue that this change occurred for economic and political reasons. Securing industrial employment for tribal members became increasingly difficult as non-Native employers sought cheaper labor overseas during the 1970s. Furthermore, the profit-driven motives of non-Native companies increasingly conflicted with tribal governments’ goal of economic security for their citizens. Drawing on the tribal archives of the Cherokee National Research Center and the records of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), this paper moves between the local concerns of one prominent case and the perspectives of national Native leaders. This paper shows that Native nations came to see capital ownership as a critical component of their self-determination during the 1970s. In the face of broad economic changes, tribal governments fought for expanded roles as regional investors and employers—roles they were uniquely positioned to play due to their distinctive union of sovereignty, economic power, and deep ties to place.

Sam Schirvar is currently a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania and the 2023-2024 Louis Galambos Fellow at the Jefferson Scholars Institute in residence at Hagley. His dissertation, “Manufacturing Self-Determination,” explores how industrial development on reservations after 1945 reshaped relationships between Native nations and the US government. Schirvar's research has also been supported by the Tomash Fellowship at the Charles Babbage Institute, a Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellowship at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Air and Space Museum; a Research Fellowship from the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Brian Hosmer of the University of Oklahoma will provide an introductory comment.