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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Power and Promise of Culture in Economic Development: Drawing on Language for Healing, Nation Building, Sovereignty, and Development Practices in the Hoopa Nation


This paper examines language, language programs, and language projects to explore their power and potential for informing, guiding, and improving economic development efforts in the Hoopa Nation of Northern California. Studies have shown that when economic development projects conflict with cultural norms and values, they have either limited success, struggle to remain viable, or simply fail. Despite the crucial role that culture plays in economic development on reservations, scholars have developed neither the theory nor the research to help tribes, practitioners, foundation staff, and policymakers understand and manage the relationship between culture and economic development in order to pursue culturally sustainable projects. This article attempts to fill this gap by offering a new approach for understanding the key role of culture, as well as the power and potential of culture for shaping viable and broadly supported development projects and practices. This study examines the relationship between culture and economic development by drawing from a series of interviews with tribal leaders, development practitioners, business leaders, and tribal officials. It explores the ways in which the conceptualizations, discourses, and practices of Hoopa culture have the potential to inform and shape development projects and the ways in which they provide for greater efficacy. Language provides a medium by which critical cultural information can be accessed in support of self-determined economic development on the reservation. This self-determined, culturally informed development is understood as contributing to larger projects of community healing, nation building, and tribal sovereignty.

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