The Future of Native Lands and Economy; Let’s make life easier for ourselves and be our own boss

There’s this horrible notion spread around Indian Country and elsewhere that “Economic Development” is this foreign concept. It’s like this great thing that is being with held from us, and once it arrives everything will be great. Consequently, we often sit around waiting for it to arrive, usually in the form of a big casino or mining operation to bring jobs into Indian Country. Our tribal leaders work diligently and hard to “attract investment” when all they really seem to be able to attract is a higher salary for themselves. Fortunately, “economic development” isn’t so complicated. People have been doing it for themselves ever since, well, ever since the dawn of humanity.

Nathan Lewis writes about The Future at New World Economics. He paints a picture that is very much in line with my vision of Resilient Villages in Indian Country.

The basics are this:

  • Abandon industrial agriculture. It’s poisoning us anyway; giving us diabetes, heart disease and obesity at unprecedented levels. Have a look at old pictures of Indians. See any fat Indians? Me either. You mostly see extraordinarily healthy, lean, muscular Indians; the sort that you don’t want to mess with. Take, for instance, these Comanche Warriors who could shoot dead a buffalo (or a US Cavalry man) at full gallop from their war ponies, riding sideways underneath the horse’s neck. Think they ate at McDonald’s? Me neither.

  • Let nature do all the work. American Indians were really good at this. Actually, Europeans were to, but industrialists and most governments can’t extract wealth from people who don’t need to work more than a few hours a week. Consequently, rather than having a commonly owned forest that provides your community with free meat, fuel and building materials, they made the forest private (or public) property, restricted people from hunting or cutting wood, and gave them a 60 hour work week and a minimum wage job clear cutting the forest and building fences for pasture so that agricultural conglomerates could raise poisoned beef to feed to our children. Wait??? What the hell happened?
  • Grow some organic, heirloom vegetables. When you’re eating highly nutritious wild game, you don’t need to devote a whole lot of land to cultivation of crappy cereal grains to feed domesticated animals. Instead, grow more vegetables! I grew up in Tlingit Aani (southeast Alaska.) I ate a ton of fresh seafood (yum!) and hated vegetables. The reason for this was that all of our vegetables were grown far, far away and shipped to us on big barges. That’s not really an experience isolated to Alaska, a lot of communities even in farm country don’t have access to truly fresh, organic, heirloom vegetables and fruits. The reason is that the vast majority of our arable land is devoted to feed grains and mono culture vegetables engineered to be disgusting to eat so they can be trucked across the continent and slapped onto a Big Mac bun. Gross! That stuff’ll kill you. Stop eating it.
  • Build your own home with your bare hands. Building codes in most American communities will force you to spend $150/square foot and require you to build at a certain size. But that’s all nonsense, especially in our respective nations where building codes don’t apply. Here’s what my mother’s people built, with no building codes and no modern machinery or materials or money. It’s 1500 years old and they built it in their free time.

    Luckily, now we have modern technology that should make this process even easier for us. These folks are trying to develop a compressed earth brick machine that will cut the cost of a dwelling down to $5 per square foot using moist dirt as a building material. Sounds very Indian. See, it’s not that we’re lazy; it’s just that we’d rather hunt, fish, build our own house, maintain our own garden & work on art. Basically, we’d rather be our own boss. Who doesn’t want that?

So where does that leave us? We are maintaining our surrounding wilderness so that we have nature producing most of our protein. We have nature producing fuel for us as well as building material. We have a few gardens providing us with delicious, fresh tomatoes, salad greens, sweet corn, squash and beans, etc. We’ve built our own homes with our bare hands, so we have no mortgage or rent to pay. Maybe we have to work a few hours a week for some cold hard cash to exchange for toothpaste, a trip to see a movies, etc. What do we do with all that free time? Oh yeah. Art. Here are some master works of Native art; the sort that should stand up to other internationally recognized forms.





Back in the day, the Pueblo Indians gardened and hunted in their forests. When their families grew too big, they just built another house. In their free time they made pottery and cutting blades. The Plains Indians lived every man’s dream. They hunted most every day, and spent the evening talking about their exploits. They danced and feasted and moved when they felt like it. A few times a year they’d haul their hides and dried meat to the pueblos to trade for manufactured goods. The Tlingit spent half the year hunting and fishing and the other half of the year staying warm in their clan houses where they told each other grand stories from the age of legends; the sort of oratory story telling on par with Homer and his works. They also spent a lot of time carving and painting. They worked in metals, too.

It doesn’t sound like too bad of a lifestyle to me. Sure, add some modern conveniences. Solar panels and a wind turbine should be enough to give your house a few conveniences. I personally can’t live without the internet, but I don’t need a TV. I certainly don’t need an enormous flat screen TV bought on credit; that’d just mean I’d have to work more to afford it. Why not work less and spend more of your time having fun?

Here’s what Nathan Lewis has to say:

Another idea I’ve been toying with is the notion of having no domesticated meat animals. This was the situation in Japan until the mid-19th century, when they adopted meat production as a form of “westernization.” Japanese people ate meat, but it was all wild meat — fish, mostly, with some wild boar, deer, fowl and so forth. Nature is fantastically productive of meat when left alone, to an extent that is practically unimaginable today. When the European explorers first visited Chesapeake Bay, they found sturgeon (a freshwater fish) in superabundance, and in sizes up to 18 feet long and weighing 1800 lbs. And cod, of course. Here is a description of herring found in Virginia in 1728:

When they spawn, all streams and waters are completely filled with them, and one might believe, when he sees such terrible amounts of them, that there was as great a supply of herring as there is water. In a word, it is unbelievable, indeed, indescribable, as also incomprehensible, what quantity is found there. One must behold oneself.

You can find similar descriptions of salmon, or of buffalo upon the plains. When you think about it briefly, it makes perfect sense that the greatest abundance of meat is possible from unmolested nature, as the conversion of solar energy into meat is most direct. Scientific studies have confirmed this — that it was a far more efficienct process to have buffalo eat grasses upon the Great Plains, than it is for people to grow corn and then feed it to cows stuffed in warehouses as we do today. And so much less work. And — to the degree that hunting is fun, and fishing for 1800 lb. sturgeon is really fun — so much more fun! Of course, wild meat is much better than the hideously degraded garbage you find in stores today.

Some people around here like to go up to the Saint Lawrence Seaway during salmon season. In a few days, they can get a couple hundred pounds of salmon, which is not too hard at 50lbs each. Or, for the deer hunters, a single deer will produce 100 lbs of meat. Two deer and a few fish per year — about four weekends of playing in the woods with your buddies — is a lot of meat. In the olden days of superabundance, it was a lot easier than that. How much meat is in a buffalo? Maybe we could hunt for our meat ourselves.

Thus, in my fabulous future, vegetables and grains are grown Fukuoka-style, but meats are harvested from the wild. In the past, no European culture has been able to manage their interactions with nature effectively. Overharvesting and destruction of the habitat quickly follows. But this is my fantasy future, and I think this is a much more sensible fantasy than growing tomatoes in orbit.

The Problem with Scarcity: It’s All In Your Head
No Growth Economics

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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5 Responses to The Future of Native Lands and Economy; Let’s make life easier for ourselves and be our own boss

  1. Go for it – totally agree with you!

    • Vince says:

      Thanks, of course many Natives already live this way to one extent or another. The major obstacles are to protect our land and the renewable resources it provides and second to recognize that this way of life has economic value and ought to be pursued and advocated for at the grassroots level just as diligently as our children are encouraged to go to college. I don’t really expect tribal governments or even state governments to get on board with this thing quick enough; though I’d be awesome if they did.

      This path would be a way to stop the brain drain of our communities. I envision a decentralized industry around home weatherization, micro-manufacturing and renewable energies in Indian Country. Open Source Ecology is designing and building the equipment needed to accomplish this. We just need some some people to lead the way *by example.* I’ve convinced it would catch like wildfire.

  2. Derek Wall says:

    Loved this, put it to my list of links for tomorrow when I talk about economics to occupy London Stock Exchange.

    The really serious non indigenous thinkers always look to the indigenous, Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom has thanked the indigenous for their ideas about economics and it is often forgotten that Karl Marx spent his last three years of life studying the indigenous rather than finishing Das Kapital (a fact forgotten by most ‘Marxists’)

    Karl Marx and the Iroquois – Franklin Rosemont http://libcom.org/library/karl-marx-iroquois-franklin-rosemont is a bit wild but worth a look.

    • Vince says:

      Thanks, I’ll check that out. One item I like to get across to people who are comparing Native American economic political philosophy to Communism/Anarchism is that our tribalism is highly exclusive. Most tribes have a very clear distinction between “us” and “not us.” Where things start to break down between Communists/Anarchists and Native Americans is when you start to talk about things like borders between the various tribes, exclusion, race, gender roles, etc. Held on high are the Iroquois, less talked about are the highly conservative tribes with clearly defined gender roles and hostility toward people who are not of the blood.

      Generally speaking (and I am indeed speaking very generally here,) Native American political and economic philosophy is highly leftist from the perspective of a clan, band or tribal member and their access to common clan/tribe property. From the outside, though, a clan/tribe is a private property holder, in that the clan or tribe itself generally holds territory or owns/controls resources. And even within that dynamic you can have a ton of hierarchy. My tribe, the Tlingit, had a ranking system that conferred privilege based on your lineage. We had slaves, commoners, and nobility across a clan group of a few hundred people.

      All in all, there’s a lot there than meets the eye. To some extent, moving forward, we can pick and choose what works best to some extent. As soon as we start straying too far from our traditional clan/band structures, things start to fall apart though.

  3. Pingback: Bootstrap Resiliency in Indian Country: Let’s be Indigenous Manufacturers Again | American Indian/Alaska Native – Attack The System

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