Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Indegenous Economics: New Investment Strategies among Indigenous Peoples Help Create Holistic and Sustainable Communities

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Indegenous Economics: New Investment Strategies among Indigenous Peoples Help Create Holistic and Sustainable Communities

Article excerpt

I grew up as the daughter of a Cherokee mother and a Swedish father. The Christian teachings of my childhood and the deeply infused way of being in the world I experience as an Indigenous person shape my understanding of economics--and of what is possible. In the United States, we interact daily with an economic system that undermines basic Christian values of concern for the and love of one's neighbors and violates balance, and reciprocity within creation. Individualism, greed, and overconsumption are fear-based responses that deny the abundance provided by the Creator.

For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have infused our individual and collective economic activities with the moral frameworks that flow from our spiritual values. Increasingly, such holistic approaches to the marketplace are becoming the touchstone of new investment strategies for all people.

For example, in the 1980s the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota--home to the Lakota People-was the poorest county in the U.S. Dollars That flowed into Pine Ridge quickly left the community, heading for non-Indigenous businesses in border towns. Seeking to disprove the conventional belief that poor people made poor customers. Lakota leaders began a survey to understand the economy of their community.

What they found surprised them. Many small Businesses existed but were vulnerable because they Lacked small amounts of additional capital to expand And to allow them to survive economically slow periods. With this information leaders began Lakota Funds, one of the first institutions in the U.S. to provide microloans to nourish local businesses and keep dollars circulating within the community. Over 20 years, Lakota Funds has spawned more than 100 community businesses and has served as a model for hundreds of other micro-credit loan funds that seek to link values of poverty alleviation with community economic development throughout the U.S.


The Menominee in Wisconsin offer another example. Today, when I visit my Menominee friends and walk through their verdant forest, I find neither a land scarred by clear-cuts nor streams filled with silt from runoff, but instead land where cut stands are replaced by lush meadows and where wildlife is plentiful.

No strangers to lumber markets, the Menominee have been sustainably harvesting and selling timber from their richly forested land since 1850 The Menominee operate their business according to Indigenous economic principles that take only the trees that nature can afford to give. By operating this way, the Menominee have preserved the profit stream of the forest in perpetuity. If they aggressively clear-cut the forest, it would be exhausted in a matter of years. The Menominee's sustainable harvesting practices have become a model for the forest products industry. Buyers aggressively seek their certified sustainable lumber and pay premium prices.

"If we maintain a healthy, vibrant forest over the long term," tribal forester Marshall Pecore told The Christian Science Monitor. "it will sustain the people and the land itself."

The Menominee are not alone in demonstrating the effectiveness of Indigenous models of natural resource management. Throughout the world, a growing number of studies have concluded that Indigenous Peoples applying ancient wisdom have been as effective in conserving biodiversity resources as high-cost conservation NGOs that advocate science-based models that have resulted in the eviction of more than 1.5 million Indigenous Peoples from their territories over the last 10 years.

My organization, First Peoples Worldwide, has sought through its Keepers of the Earth Fund to provide small grants to Indigenous communities throughout the world, to support them as they reclaim long-standing wisdom in managing their territories and demonstrating the scientific merit of ancient wisdom. This fund promotes sharing of this information both within the community of Indigenous practitioners and with the broader world that hungers for new solutions to endemic problems. …

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