Planning the American Indian Reservation: From Theory to Empowerment

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Syracuse University Press (2015)
329 pages

Review by Ahmed Al-Asfour

Nicholas Christos Zaferatos, author of Planning the American Indian Reservation: From Theory to Empowerment, teaches urban planning, sustainable development, Native American planning, and other similar topics. He also has directed the Kefalonia Program in Sustainable Community Development in Greece.

In Planning the American Indian Reservation Dr. Zaferatos presents a holistic approach to understanding Native American communities’ structure on the reservations. The book is divided into four parts. Each part provides rich information related to thinking and planning in Native communities. In part one, the author examines the setting for Native American reservation planning by discussing tribal political community structure, tribal sovereignty, and tribal cultural community. In part two he discusses tribal political economy by identifying underdevelopment and oppositional forces in tribal planning. In this part, the main theme is the focus on theories and models empowering tribal planning.

Throughout the book, the author looks at key components that are essential to building a strong community. In part three, for example, Zaferatos discusses the dimensions of tribal planning by explaining an adaptive and contingent model. In the fourth and last part of the book, he sheds light on relationships between tribal, state, and federal governments. He emphasizes the need to create a mediating apparatus in regards to the conflicts that arise between tribal entities and states.

The author states, “If planners working in Indian country are to be effective, they must understand both the opportunities and the risks inherent in a tribe’s limited political sovereignty…” The author continues by stating, “The effectiveness of tribal planning depends upon a tribe’s ability to exercise its political resolve as it navigates a strategic course through the ever-changing circumstances that shape its future.” Zaferatos recommends that planners should not attempt to develop a plan for all tribes, but rather they should customize their work for each tribal entity’s needs.

The main takeaway from the book is sovereignty can only be reached by independence from others. The author attempted to point out that successful planning in Indian Country is crucial for the development of the communities. In many parts of the book, Zaferatos asserts that a comprehensive reservation planning strategy can create a community that is independent from any influences of outside forces, such as state and federal entities. According to Zaferatos, this can only be done by completely envisioning, planning, and pursuing all efforts to assist tribes in shaping their reservation communities’ future. Overall, the book is a good read for students and faculty in planning, politicians, and other stakeholders.

Ahmed Al-Asfour, Ph.D., is a professor and the Business Department chair at Oglala Lakota College.

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