The Business of Being Cherokee: An Examination of the Transformative Power and Vision of Small Businesses on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Lewis, Courtney
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • This dissertation examines the crucial socio-economic impact of small businesses and small business owners on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It addresses the questions of how boundaries that Native Nations must work within--land, legal, and representational--impact these small business owners, how these boundaries are transformed, and how these transformations can literally and figuratively alter the landscape of a Native Nation. Within these boundaries, I discuss the EBCI governmental programs initiated specifically to encourage and aid small business owners. I then critically explore the characteristics of these businesses and business owners (products/services offered, education provided through employee training and public information, previous business experience, etc.), as well as how issues of representation and the EBCI's casino bear upon business ownership. This work furthermore chronicles these businesses' challenges during the Great Recession, thereby documenting the means by which these critical components of our worldwide economy buttress themselves against economic shocks. Economically, it is the independence and choice provided by small businesses that stabilizes, diversifies, stimulates, and helps sustain the robustness of a Native Nation's economy. This impact suggests that our current lack of information about contemporary Native Nation small businesses has hindered our understandings of not only American Indian people as entrepreneurs and small business owners, but also our overall understandings of reservation economies. This research topic was developed in conversation with the EBCI chief, economic development offices, and small business owners. It is based on over fifteen months of participant observation as well as my own experiences as a Cherokee citizen and small business owner. The methodology included networking with small business owners, their customers, and residents in order to select individuals for formal interviews. This was followed by structured and semi-structured interviews and observation of public events which concerned small business owners, such as those hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and the tribal council meetings. This research included conversational analysis via formal data gathering with archival documents, particularly the Cherokee One Feather, regarding small business ownership and activities. This research has been approved by the UNC-Chapel Hill and EBCI IRB offices.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Lambert, Valerie
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2012

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