Sovereign Entrepreneurs

Cherokee Small-Business Owners and the Making of Economic Sovereignty

By Courtney Lewis

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, 3 maps, 2 graphs, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4859-0
    Published: May 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4860-6
    Published: April 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5029-4
    Published: April 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4858-3
    Published: May 2019

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Awards & distinctions

2020 Mooney Award, Southern Anthropological Society

A 2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

By 2009, reverberations of economic crisis spread from the United States around the globe. As corporations across the United States folded, however, small businesses on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) continued to thrive. In this rich ethnographic study, Courtney Lewis reveals the critical roles small businesses such as these play for Indigenous nations. The EBCI has an especially long history of incorporated, citizen-owned businesses located on their lands. When many people think of Indigenous-owned businesses, they stop with prominent casino gaming operations or natural-resource intensive enterprises. But on the Qualla Boundary today, Indigenous entrepreneurship and economic independence extends to art galleries, restaurants, a bookstore, a funeral parlor, and more.

Lewis’s fieldwork followed these businesses through the Great Recession and against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding EBCI-owned casino. Lewis's keen observations reveal how Eastern Band small business owners have contributed to an economic sovereignty that empowers and sustains their nation both culturally and politically.

About the Author

Courtney Lewis (Cherokee Nation) is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina–Columbia.

For more information about Courtney Lewis, visit the Author Page.


“A must read for anyone that has a business or is looking to start one on tribal property. . . . Covers and takes a deep dive into Cherokee culture and bridges it with our history to provide all Native Nations with a sense of self-awareness and to empower native communities.”--Cherokee One Feather

“In this fascinating study, Lewis shows how diversity can overcome the dangers of a nation's relying on one economic product—casinos—and how individual and household entrepreneurship provides stability as well as room for necessary innovation.”--Choice

“Lewis provides an in-depth analysis of Cherokee small businesses and their role for economic and political sovereignty…her research opens the door for more contributions in the area of small-business ownership and economic sovereignty in both rural and urban areas by Indigenous entrepreneurs…” – Native American and Indigenous Studies

“Well-written. . . . [Lewis’s] research contributes to current anthropological and interdisciplinary debates in development studies. . . [and] includes many constructive ideas on how to strengthen and support Indigenous peoples’ centuries-long quest for economic sovereignty.” --Exertions

"In this well-written, ethnographically interesting, and insightful book, Lewis takes readers to the heart of how individuals constitute Indigenous economies, not only via governmental institutions but also via private enterprise."--Jessica Cattelino, University of California, Los Angeles

"This groundbreaking book demonstrates the creativity and cultural specificity of Native Americans who own businesses and run tribal enterprises. Lewis shows us the importance of small businesses in maintaining and strengthening the economic health of Native American communities."--Margaret Bender, Wake Forest University