Indian reservation economies have been in shambles for generations. Although some tribes operate successful gaming enterprises, no tribe has a vibrant private sector economy. Law and economics help explain why. Economics is the study of choices, and Indian country’s complex legal rules deter businesses from investing on tribal land. After all, no business wants to spend a year waiting for the federal government to approve a land lease on reservation when land is easily accessible off reservation. Likewise, jurisdictional rules are clear off reservation, but within Indian country, simply determining whether to file a breach of contract suit in tribal, state, or federal court can take years. Complications like this cause private investors to avoid Indian country.

This Article uses an economic lens to explain how the rules governing Indian country trap tribes in poverty. This Article explains the inefficiencies created by federal Indian law are a consequence of the federal government undermining tribal sovereignty. Accordingly, this Article suggests tribes revitalize their legal institutions to improve their business climates.