The Lakota Nation Thinks Cryptocurrencies Could Be 'The New Buffalo'

The Lakota nation has taken MazaCoin, a bitcoin copycat, as its official currency. 

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The Lakota nation has taken MazaCoin, a bitcoin copycat, as its official currency. Native American activist Payu Harris is leading the charge to implement MazaCoin — he believes that the newly-developed cryptocurrency will give the Lakota a sense of "national identity." Despite the massive instability of bitcoin and other digital currencies, Harris and the Lakota believe that MazaCoin is necessary to stop tribe dependence on the federal government.


"We’ve gone through 100 years of imposed poverty," Harris tells The Verge. "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 Lakota populate the Ogala Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is one of the most impoverished areas in the country. While $220 million comes through the reservation every year (mostly through casinos), Harris "estimates less than $45 million of that stays in the local economy." Harris told Forbes last week,

I think cryptocurrencies could be the new buffalo. Once, it was everything for our survival. We used it for food, for clothes, for everything. It was our economy. I think MazaCoin could serve the same purpose.

It's unclear whether the U.S. government will allow the Lakota to develop a completely independent economy, or whether the Lakota could even be successful in doing so. Chase Iron Eyes, the South Dakota legal counsel for the Lakota, tells The Verge that he thinks the government will push back on MazaCoin. "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." Still, Harris thinks that the Lakota's sovereignty gives them "the right to have bitcoin, Litecoin, MazaCoin."

As for implementation, Harris is convinced that older tribe members will get used to MazaCoin. "Just like debit cards, it will take a while for people to get it. But once people understood the new cards, they began to accept them. The same will happen with MazaCoin," he told Forbes

The federal government has not made moves to regulate bitcoin, as it doesn't go through U.S. banks — that's the whole point. But Sen. Joe Manchin called on the Federal Reserve to ban it, citing its instability and danger to consumers. (Mt. Gox, once the largest bitcoin trading site, collapsed last week after being the target of a major theft.)

MazaCoin, which was developed only a month ago by an anonymous cryptographer, could end up being less volatile than bitcoin. The Lakota will allow anyone to use the currency, but they're keeping half of it in reserve to avoid wild speculation. Harris is determined to make it work:

I want to get my people educated and show them this is the next level of finance. Let’s make the rest of the world play catch up. Let’s be leaders and rebuild the economy on our terms. We’re not going to ask the federal government if we can do this. I refuse to ask them to do anything within my own borders. When you have children going hungry, it’s time to focus. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.