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Gains on the reservations

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"This legislation is a matter of urgency," said Hope MacDonald-LoneTree, who sponsored the bill. The highly addictive drug is made from easily obtained materials whose aftereffects include schizophrenia-like symptoms and a propensity for violence. The FBI estimates that up to 40 percent of the violent crime cases it handles on the Navajo reservation are meth-related.

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And economic progress does have its costs. A housing development near Sacramento owned by Miwuk Indians was the target of a recent arson attack by environmental radicals.

"It's just ironic," tribal spokesman Rich Hoffman told the Sacramento Bee newspaper. "Really, when you think about it, the native Americans were the first environmentalists. It's a slap in the face to the tribe because they worked so hard from an environmental standpoint to put this project together."

Strong economic progress

Most tribal lands are off the beaten path and therefore a particular challenge for economic development. Still, the number of native-owned businesses in the US grew from fewer than five in 1969 to nearly 200,000 today, according to the US Census Bureau.

"What a remarkable achievement in just 35 years," writes Kenneth Robbins, a Standing Rock Sioux and president of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, in a recent issue of the weekly newspaper Indian Country Today.

Since passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, the number of casinos has grown to more than 300 with a total annual business of nearly $13 billion. But many tribes are not in a position - geographically or economically - to have successful gambling operations, or they have seen that they need to diversify.

The Warm Springs reservation in Oregon, for example, has a resort and casino. But it also built a power generating and transmission facility that sells the electrical output to PacifiCorp, and it runs a forest products business as well. The White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona owns and operates the Sunrise Park ski area and summer resort. In addition to a casino, the Tohono O'odham have an industrial park near Tucson that includes heavy equipment maker Caterpillar and a 23-acre foreign-trade zone.

The 56 million acres of tribally controlled lands, most of it in the West, include substantial portions of the nation's oil, gas, and coal resources, and tribes have begun to develop wind and solar energy facilities as well.

The legacy of broken treaties, stolen lands, tribal "termination," and other official acts that led to the decline of native Americans remains in important ways. The average income for Indians living on reservations remains less than half the national average, and the unemployment rate is double the US figure. Indian families still are more likely to live in overcrowded homes. Only half finish high school. Life expectancy for American Indians hovers five years less than other races in the US.

But, says Mr. Hall, "Indian Country is moving forward and in the right direction."