Power from Powerlessness: Tribal Governments, Institutional Niches, and American Federalism

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Since America's founding, American Indian tribes have possessed hardly any social, economic, or political power, and they remain one of the poorest and isolated populations in the country (despite the popular myth that gambling revenue has elevated their socioeconomic status). Yet in comparison to other marginal groups, they have been relatively successful in persuading government at all levels-local, state, and federal-to pursue policies that address important tribal concerns. How is it that Indian tribes sometimes succeed against very dim odds? More broadly, given the equation between socioeconomic status and power in America, why would seemingly powerless advocates ever win? And what does Indians' success tell us about the potential for the powerless to wrest a measure of power for themselves in such an unequal country? In Power from Powerlessness, Laura Evans looks at the successful policy interventions by a range of Indian tribes to explain how disadvantaged groups can build capacity and exploit niches in the institutional framework of American federalism to obtain unlikely victories. While some of the victories are admittedly small, Evans shows that they are quite impressive when viewed cumulatively. Not simply a book about American Indian politics, Power from Powerlessness forces scholars of institutions and inequality to reconsider the commonly held view that the less powerful are in fact powerless.