Indigenous Economics for the Seventh Generation

“Seems like people don’t want to stick around another thousand years.”    
—Mike Wiggins, Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe, on the proposed GTAC taconite mine, which will impact the watershed of the Bad River. 

Let’s say that is not true.  Let’s say that we are people who want to live in a way that restores our relationship with Mother Earth. We want to live in small, medium, and large communities, with a low fossil fuel impact on the world.

Ji misawaabandaaming, or how we envision our future, is a worldview of positive thinking.  It’s an Anishinaabe worldview, coming from a place and a cultural way of life that has been here, on the same land, for 10,000 years.  To transform modern society into one based on survival, not conquest, we need to make some changes.  We need to actualize an economic and social transformation. Restoring an economics, which makes sense for upcoming generations needs to be a priority. In our community, we think of this as economics for the seventh generation.

In our teachings we have some clear direction: our intention is Minobimaatisiiwin, a spiritual, mental, physical and emotional happiness—sort of an Anishinaabe version of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. Within our cultural teachings lie these Indigenous Economic Principles:

  • Intergenerational thinking and equity (thinking for the seventh generation)
  • Inter- and intra-species equity (respect)
  • Valuing those spiritual and intangible facets of the natural world and cultural practice (not all values and things can be monetized).

After  graduating from college in 1981, Winona returned to the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, and began a journey of working towards building this restorative economics. Honor the Earth was founded a few years later, but it was through the foundational economic work of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Native Harvest, both of which began from a cultural premise, that the legitimacy of our work and resources for an Indigenous economics derives.

We need to restore our relationship to place (we now hold 1400 acres of land as a land trust) and we need to determine what an economy looks like which is Indigenous.  Our focus has been in the traditional economy, that which involves extensive subsistence agriculture and falls outside the definition of market economies. Food is at the center of this system.

The work ahead

powershift.jpgWe are working extensively on restorative Indigenous economics, in other words: the future…without so many fossil fuels. This puts us in a very unique position. We do policy work – leveraging thousands of signatures on cards to federal agencies and officials (working with, and by having thousands of people at our events sign postcards and engage in creative petition delivery tactics. We have drafted tribal policies with reference to climate change, and tribal renewable portfolios, as well as testifying in New Mexico in 2011 on the carbon cap regulations as an expert witness. In the upcoming year, we will provide new work in this arena, and as well work to promote tribal policies which protect food, water and future generations, in collaboration with our partners at Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. We will also work with partners on renewable energy and food systems. 

Land Based Economics 

  1. Honor the Earth will work with economists from the University of Minnesota and Montanan to create regional tribal economic visioning and planning process to articulate land based resilient economic strategy. 
  2. Expand renewable energy work in the region, focused on a partnership with Lakota Solar Enterprises for solar thermal in northern Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, and in three possible wind projects- Grand Portage, White Earth and Crow reservation, through advocacy groundwork, training, and technical support.
  3. Create an Indigenous Economics Training Program in coordination with tribal colleges in the region, Idle No More, Confederation College (Thunder Bay Ontario), and other entities to assist tribal communities in both full cost accounting, and in creating the framework for restored Indigenous economies and strategies. 
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