Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lakota Nation Launches “MazaCoin” Digital Currency to Decolonize Reservation Economy

The Lakota Nation, an indigenous group in the northern Plains of the United States, is poised to become the first American Indian group in the modern era to introduce its own currency.  But it will not be a paper or metal currency; instead, “MazaCoin,” as it will be called, is a virtual electronic currency, like Bitcoin, regulated not by a central bank but by its users.  (See the MazaCoin website here.)

Payu Harris, at the New York Stock Exchange to launch MazaCoin earlier this year
MazaCoin was developed in February by Payu Harris, a “web designer and digital currency trader” who is of both Lakota and Northern Cheyenne ancestry.  Proponents envision that MazaCoin could become the main, or even sole, currency in Lakota communities, as part of taking sovereign control over their economy back from the U.S. government.

There are about 100,000 Lakota (a.k.a. Sioux) in the U.S., about half of whom live on the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and other reservations, mostly in North and South Dakota.  MazaCoin, however, is not being implemented by the official administering bodies of these reservations, which are regulated under the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.), but by the “Traditional Lakota Nation,” a sovereigntist group of the Oglala “band” or subgroup of the Lakota, who are based mostly on Pine Ridge, in South Dakota. 

Harris has said, “We’re on sovereign soil so we have the right to have Bitcoin, Litecoin, MazaCoin.”  But while Chase Iron Eyes, a legal counsel for the Lakota, agrees in principle, tempers that perspective with some pessimism.  “There hasn’t been a tribal nation that has declared its own currency and has mandated that that currency is used within its borders,” he says.  “But it’s because of this pervasive, ever-present asserted dominion of the United States.  They’ll try to shut us down, try to cite us with law violations.”  However, Iron Eyes is ready for the battle, adding, “We’ve gone through 100 years of imposed poverty.  That’s the fight we’re having.  What we’re trying to do with MazaCoin is just spark something to get us out of this cycle of victimhood.”  The Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations are among the most poverty-battered communities in the U.S., with sky-high rates of unemployment, substance abuse, and suicide.

The Lakota flag
A more quotidian challenge is developing a paper medium for the digital currency, in a community where few have computers, cell phones, or other devices that currencies like Bitcoin rely on.

At the moment, the status of MazaCoin is unclear.  Digital currencies are still mostly uncharted legal territory.  But it seems sure to prove controversial.  Nor is MazaCoin by any means the first foray into innovative approaches to sovereignty by the Oglala.  In the late 19th century, in response to the federal government’s unilateral slashing back of Lakota territories promised by treaty, followed by a deliberate economic blockade that threatened the community with starvation, Oglala and other Lakota adapted a Paiute religious ritual from Nevada called the Ghost Dance that purported to have the power to resurrect deceased warriors, render Lakota people bulletproof, and cleanse their land of the white invaders.  This prompted the U.S. military’s massacre of 300 unarmed Lakota, including women and children, in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.  In the early 1970s, during the height of the “Red Power” movement, an uprising on Pine Ridge against a corrupt reservation leadership in league with the feds spawned a protest encampment at the site of Wounded Knee that declared an Independent Oglala Nation.  In response, President Richard M. Nixon dispatched military snipers, tanks, and even a warplane to keep order, in the first deployment of U.S. troops against U.S. citizens on U.S. territory since the Civil War.  Three people were killed before the standoff ended.

In 1973 on Pine Ridge, shit got real.
Lakota people have continually refused to accept cash compensation for their lost lands, which include the sacred Black Hills.  There have been several declarations of independence, including a 1974 “Declaration of Continuing Independence of the Sovereign Native American Indian Nations,” signed at Standing Rock, and another by the Confederacy of the Black Hills in 1991, which also included Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe communities.  In 2007, the former Libertarian presidential candidate Russell Means and three other Wounded Knee veteran activists declared an independent Lakota Sioux Nation of Indians, which today, after Means’s death, persists as a provisional government for a Republic of Lakotah covering vast, unceded territory.

The federal government has a very low tolerance for anything that seems like a competing currency.  In 2011, a self-described “ex-surfer guy” named Bernard von NotHaus, founder of the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, was convicted of counterfeiting for issuing something called the Liberty Dollar out of his self-described Royal Hawaiian Mint Company.  Just for good measure, the feds slathered on some “domestic terrorism” charges.  He currently awaits sentencing.

If this surfer dude’s play money brought charges of terrorism,
who knows how the feds will react to MazaCoin.
But the Lakota are not just a bunch of ex-surfer dudes.  They have never backed down from a fight.  We’ll be hearing more about MazaCoin.

Your tax dollars at work, 1890
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Related articles from this blog:
“Florida Con Man Busted in New Guinea Ferrying ‘Funny Money’ to Self-Styled Bougainville ‘King’” (Feb. 2014)
“Shots Fired as French Authorities Arrest Tahitian ‘King’ Issuing His Own Currency” (Feb. 2014)
“EPA Extends Jurisdiction of Wind River Indian Reservation, Swallowing 3 Wyoming Towns” (Jan. 2014)
“Which Part of ‘Wet’suwet’en Territory’ Don’t They Understand?” (Nov. 2012)
“Obituary: Russell Charles Means (1939-2012)” (Oct. 2012)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon