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Native Americans and the tech economy

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A woman appears to look at a phone under tribal flags at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

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As the U.S. labor market grows ever tighter, the racial unemployment gap is narrowing very slightly, with a historically low black unemployment rate that the White House likes to talk about. That’s true.

But onstage last month at a Native American economic conference, Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari noted that things aren’t improving for all Americans.

“The question is, is it extending to Indian Country? Are Native Americans finally getting a chance to become members of the labor force in and around their reservations? So far, what I’ve been hearing is not really,” he said. “Why is it that many businesses say, ‘We can’t find workers,’ and yet you go to reservations and there’s very high unemployment. … What are the barriers to bringing people to those jobs?”

Native Americans have the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country. Technology, particularly new financial tech, offers an opportunity for this historically marginalized group to better access the strong economy.

But getting online in largely rural, remote reservations is a challenge — to say nothing about access to capital and credit. Tribal sovereignty, which confers self-governing rights to tribes, can also make access, taxes and generally doing business more complicated.

To help talk us through both the potential and the challenges technology brings to Native American communities, we’re joined by Dante Desiderio. He’s the executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association and a member of the Sappony Tribe. The NAFOA put on the conference where Kashkari spoke last fall.

Plus, we’ll hear your thoughts on fast fashion and electric planes (including all about this hydrogen fuel cell), and an answer to the Make Me Smart Question about what it means to “change the world.”

By the way, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter! Here’s last week’s issue, if you missed it.

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