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Indigenous Nations and the Development of the U.S. Economy: Land, Resources, and Dispossession

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2022

Ann M. Carlos*
Professor, Department of Economics, University of Colorado Boulder, CO 80309.
Donna L. Feir
Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8P 5C2, Center for Indian Country Development, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and IZA Institute for Labor Economics, University of Bonn. E-mail:
Angela Redish
Professor, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BCCanada, V6T 1L4. E-mail:


Abundant land and strong property rights are conventionally viewed as key factors underpinning U.S. economic development success. This view relies on the “Pristine Myth” of an empty undeveloped land, but the abundant land of North America was already made productive and was the recognized territory of sovereign Indigenous Nations. We demonstrate that the development of strong property rights for European/American settlers was mirrored by the attenuation and increasing disregard of Indigenous property rights. We argue that the dearth of discussion of the dispossession of Indigenous nations results in a misunderstanding of some of the core themes of U.S. economic history.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association

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We thank Douglas Allen, Terry Anderson, William Collins, Ellora Derenoncourt, Rob Hancock, Taylor Jaworski, Maggie Jones, Gloria Main, Cherie Metcalf, Pamela Nickless, Krishna Pendakur, Claudio Saunt (including for generously sharing his data), Richard Todd, and David Scoones for comments on an earlier draft of the paper; also the seminar participants at Yale University, UC Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, the Irish Quantitative History Meetings, and the University of Victoria. We especially thank the Editor, Eric Hilt, for his invaluable comments and suggestions. The usual caveat applies. We also thank Kit Schwartz, Hena Matthias, and Erin Song for thoughtful and careful research assistance and the University of British Columbia for financial support. The opinions and interpretations in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.


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