Can the Blockchain Empower Indigenous Communities?
In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown describes how US agents in the 1800s freely offered provisions, such as dry goods, to native communities, only to turn around and call it a debt after the fact. In this way, the US used the dollar, a foreign and meaningless concept, to create poverty and dependence. It was a calculated and critical tactic in colonial subjugation of the sovereign nations flourishing on this continent.
In the Jacksonian era of the American genocide, the US paid off its own debt through dispossession, essentially selling stolen land to reduce federal deficit. This lead to the forcible removal of native nations to lands less suitable for self-sustenance, driving them deeper into impoverished dependence on the US.
Native communities are still living in this subjugation, largely excluded from the US economy. Many nations rely on tribal casinos, which cumulatively pull in upwards of $28 million annually, to generate revenues. But that system still relies on importing US dollars instead of creating wealth from within. Without mineral, water or oil rights, the nations have little to export. And now their status as sovereign nations is under threat altogether by the current administration.
Enter the blockchain.
A New Indian Head Dollar
What would happen if a native nation or coalition of nations adopted blockchain technology to create wealth from within?
A system of government cryptocurrency isn’t a new idea. But it still hasn’t been done. Governments in North America, East Asia, Europe and South America are already exploring the potential of federal digital currencies. And some experts, including Bitt founder Gabriel Abed, envision a future in which “all currencies will be digitized”.
Not all global powers are in favor of this. Fearing the collapse of crypto—or perhaps fearing its success—India has followed in China’s footsteps and announced a moratorium on financial institutions dealing with those who use crypto. Some investors are calling this a “huge mistake” that will only stifle innovation and lead to brain drain.
So while we have some examples of what will happen when states reject the blockchain, we have yet to see one fully adopt it, let alone to grow organically from it.
Fresh Soil for Self Governance
DAOstack, one of the year’s most successful ICOs to date, is using blockchain to build scalable, collaborative systems that empower collectives, tribes, markets and other groups. As DAOstack communications director Josh Zemel explains, “it’s a platform for decentralized governance that enables collectives to self-organize around shared goals or values, easily and efficiently.”
Zemel quotes founder Matan Field, saying “The first principle of designing the DAO stack was not to build a specific protocol or a specific application, but rather to build the soil, the ground from which a whole ecosystem can grow and thrive.” Properly employed, this soil could be the ground from which groups like native nations could reclaim self-governance and sovereignty.
The idea of a crypto-sustained community has lead a group of wealthy investors to Puerto Rico. Their goal? To establish a free and self reliant city—or at least a community—using blockchain technology. They renamed their project Sol when they found out that ‘Puertopia’ means ‘eternal boy playground.’ Despite its murky past and neocolonial implications, the outcome of Sol may provide valuable insights for other groups looking to establish self reliance and wealth generation.
Making the Switch
Because gold- or oil-backed currency is no longer the only alternative to fiat currency, a stockpile of natural resources is no longer prerequisite to creating wealth. Blockchain could be the solution to empower subjugated bodies of people, like indigenous communities in the Americas, to reclaim their power to self-govern.
Can a native nation make the switch to a decentralized blockchain infrastructure? That largely depends on whether crypto has staying power in the big picture, or whether its volatility makes it a bubble doomed to burst. But a forward thinking group could capitalize on moving first. If the chiefs are paying attention, this could be a solution centuries in the making.