Despite shortcomings of the empowerment idea in regards to
persisting power structures, the US Congress has passed the
Empowerment Acts to help improve the socio-economic
situation in the poorest regions of the country. In the case study
about the Oglala Oyate Woitancan Empowerment Zone, the
author discusses whether this community development approach
is recommendable in the American Indian context.
From 1998 to 2009 the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation held the
status of an empowerment zone. The combination of federal
dollars, technical assistance and tax incentives were to assist
the Oglala Lakota in achieving the kind of sustainable development
they want for their communities. During the entire
funding period, Sonja John witnessed the program’s progress.
She examined the program in the context of empowerment
theory and determined whether it improved the living conditions
by enhancing capabilities and freedoms and meeting the
pre-set program objectives. Although this enacted empowerment
program ended zigzagging along the path of red-taped
bureaucratic roadblocks, the author argues, the concept bears
potential for more than pseudo-empowerment and therapeutic
politics if true participation is feasible. The outcomes of this
case study have important policy ramifications for other
participation-based development programs as well.