There's a lot of talk about virtual currencies lately — how they work, economic implications, and whether they're safe. But now a Native American tribe is using a Bitcoin-like currency to help strengthen its sovereignty.
In South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota Nation has become the first Native American tribe to launch its own form of virtual currency. Payu Harris, its creator, calls it MazaCoin.
And MazaCoin does work a lot like the already famous Bitcoin: You can either buy it with dollars or (virtually) mine it. And then you can use it to trade for goods at places that accept it. (If you've been ignoring Bitcoin, this handy explainer is for you.)
Harris, a developer and activist, says there are different ways in which MazaCoin can help the Lakota Nation — but his main motivation for creating it was enhancing the tribe's independence.
"I'm sure everyone's aware that there are a lot of unresolved treaty issues for Native American tribes," Harris says. "So by having our own sovereign crypto-currency, that helps build on a foundation to enhance the sovereignty we have — and just strengthen it for the future."
The Oglala Lakota are one of the seven tribes that make up the Lakota people. Lakota Nation is a considered a semi-autonomous state, but since the 1970s, there have been activists advocating for its recognition as a fully independent nation.
Harris says part of the inspiration for the currency came from a talk he had with his uncle about seven years ago: His uncle had proposed the idea of having an independent physical currency for the "breakaway Republic of Lakota." But Harris actually sees MazaCoin as more of a link between all Native American tribes and other people with similar interests.
"We don't want it to be just for the Lakota. Like other crypto-currencies, it's open," he says. "We embrace usage by everyone. We have users in the Balkan states, Ukraine, Russia and Serbia, South America, all parts of North America."
Harris also thinks MazaCoin can help ease the community's economic struggles. He says it could help the tribal government raise revenue for social programs, and even stimulate business.
But virtual currencies are still largely unexplored territory. Many are skeptical about whether MazaCoin can have a significant economic impact.
Pete Earle, chief economist of Humint, a firm that develops crypto-currencies, says MazaCoin can provide the Lakota Tribe with a new spectrum of economic possibilities.
"These currencies can be used to incentivize participation, to create asset accounts, or to formalize agreements," Earle says. "Essentially the only limitation to be made is the limitation of imagination."
Earle says the Lakota could even use MazaCoin as a way of rewarding outside groups that support the tribe's best interests. But he points out that for the currency to have any value, there has to first be a market for it.
And developing a market where folks actually use a crypto-currency is tricky, says Mike Hearn, a Bitcoin developer. Generating demand for MazaCoin can actually be the initiative's central obstacle — especially if what it offers is not too different from other crypto-currencies.
"I think it's fine, but only if you have some technical advantage that can't just be added onto Bitcoin itself," Hearn says. "In other cases, just taking Bitcoin and rebranding doesn't seem useful."
Payu Harris concedes that MazaCoin's user base is still rather small (in fact, he described it as "a trickle"), but he's optimistic that the ideals behind it will be enough to entice potential buyers. He says he counts on outsiders who sympathize with the project's motivation to participate in the MazaCoin trade.
"By mining the coin and being involved with the MazaCoin community you're helping out with the sovereign power of tribal communities," Harris says.
And while he admits that even getting tribe members to fully embrace MazaCoin might require some time, he is working on educating folks so that they can take advantage of it. One of his projects consists of creating a program that would teach young people how to trade crypto-currencies.
And according to Harris, informing people — opening them up to possibility — is what the initiative is ultimately about.
"The first thing is to focus on home and get our own people to realize the value of it; to become inspired and to start dreaming again," Harris says.
This interview was originally broadcast on June 27, 2013.
When the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was growing up in Nigeria she was not used to being identified by the color of her skin. That changed when she arrived in the United States for college. As a black African in America, Adichie was suddenly confronted with what it meant to be a person of color in the United States. Race as an idea became something that she had to navigate and learn.
The learning process took some time and was episodic. Adichie recalls, for example, an undergraduate class in which the subject of watermelon came up. A student had said something about watermelon to an African-American classmate, who was offended by the comment.
"I remember sitting there thinking, 'But what's so bad about watermelons? Because I quite like watermelons,' " Adichie tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
She felt that her African-American classmate was annoyed with her because Adichie didn't share her anger — but she didn't have the context to understand why. The history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not taught to students in Nigeria. Adichie had yet to learn fully about the history of slavery — and its continuing reverberations — in the U.S.
"Race is such a strange construct," says Adichie, "because you have to learn what it means to be black in America. So you have to learn that watermelon is supposed to be offensive."
Adichie is a MacArthur Fellowship winner and author of the novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of A Yellow Sun. Her novel Americanah explores this question of what it means to be black in the U.S., and tells the story of a young Nigerian couple, one of whom leaves for England and the other of whom leaves for America.
The title, she says, is a Nigerian word for those who have been to the U.S. and return with American affectations.
"It's often used," she says, "in the context of a kind of gentle mockery."
On being African but not African-American in the United States
"I think that one is not burdened by America's terrible racial history, and I think when people say to me, 'You're different. You're not angry,' in some ways it also feels that I'm being made complicit for something that I don't want to be complicit in. Because in some ways they're saying, 'You're one of the good ones.' And I think to say that is to somehow ignore the reality of American history. So for example, people will say, 'Oh, you're so easy to get along with.' And they'll tell me some story of some African-American woman they knew who just wasn't like me. Which I find quite absurd."
On the American tradition of higher education
"I really love the American liberal arts college education system and the way you can take classes in philosophy, political science and communications. I was thrilled [as an undergraduate]. I don't think I quite had a plan. I did think I would go back home, which in many ways I have, because I have a life in both places. But I didn't really have a firm idea of what I would do with it. I was just so grateful to have classes that I not only did well in, but also enjoyed."
On why she aspired to have straight hair in Nigeria
"[T]he rite of passage from girl to woman is when you can go get a relaxer and have your hair straight. I remember looking forward very much to my last day of secondary school. ... When I graduated secondary school, what I really wanted to do was go straight to the hair salon and get my relaxer, so my hair would be straight. Then I came to the U.S., and ... I couldn't afford to get a relaxer at a hair salon here because I thought it was just needlessly expensive. So I went to the drugstore and bought the relaxer kit and decided to do it myself, which didn't end well. Having then a scalp with really bad burns, I suddenly thought, 'Why am I even doing this?' And that's when I stopped using relaxers. And it took a while to accept my hair for the way that it grows from my head."
On the affect the war in Nigeria had on her family
"My father lost everything, every material thing he owned. He also lost his father, who died in a refugee camp. My mother lost her father. My parents had just come back from the U.S. months before the war had started. ... [My father] gets back to Nigeria, he starts teaching at the University of Nigeria, and months later this war starts. ...
"My father tells a story about his father dying in a refugee camp. His father was a titled man in Igboland, which meant that he was a great man. He had one of the highest titles a man could have. But his hometown fell, so he had to leave and go to a refugee camp, and he died and he was buried in a mass grave. Which is just heartbreaking for a man, particularly a man like him. My father, who's the first son, and who takes his responsibilities very seriously, couldn't go to bury his father because the roads were occupied. He was in a different part of Biafra and so it took a year until ... he could go to the refugee camp. ... And he goes there and he says, 'I want to know where my father was buried.' And somebody waved very vaguely and said, 'Oh we buried the people there.' So it was a mass grave. So many people had died. And my father says he went there and he took a handful of sand, and he said he's kept the sand ever since. For me, that was one of the most moving things I had ever heard."
On the influence of Christianity and education in contemporary Africa
"[M]issionaries brought education, so that it wasn't just education, it was religion: They both came hand-in-hand. So that for my father, for example, who was born in 1932 and who started to go to school in eastern Nigeria in 1936, you didn't just go to learn math, and English and science, you also learned that Jesus was Lord and everything your parents were doing at home was evil and demonic and all of that. And so now we have a generation of educated Africans who are also very Christianized. [And] not only Christianized, because I think it's possible to be Christianized and still have a respect for other traditions, but many of them don't because their version of Christianity — their God — was one in which to be Christian meant to not only reject, but demonize, traditional religion. So many people in my father's generation think that what their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers did was evil, or they use interesting words like heathen and pagan."
This week on Alt.Latino, we tackle the growing pile of new records sitting on our desks, unopened. Throughout February, in honor of Black History Month, we brought you shows that focus on Afro-Latino history. This week, we shift gears and do something else we love to do: kick back and relax with some fresh jams.
We've got great music for you: a remake by rising Dominican star Jarina De Marco, an explosive cut off Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux's new album, a track with killer vocals by La Santa Cecilia, and a song from Calle 13's new record, Multi_Viral. As an added bonus, Calle 13 frontman Rene Perez Joglar joins us to discuss the project and describe what it's like to be one of the most beloved and controversial artists in contemporary Latin America.
So come join us for great music and conversation — and, as always, let us know what you've been listening to these days.
Forty-four years ago tonight, North Carolina State beat South Carolina 44-39 in double overtime to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. That wasn’t supposed to happen. And it left the captain of the team, Bobby Cremins, so heartbroken, he and another player on the team fled into the mountains of North Carolina for several days before they could return to the South Carolina campus in Columbia.
Here’s why. In those days the winner of the ACC post-season tournament got the conference berth in the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. There were only half a dozen teams in the NCAA field, so there was no room for a South Carolina team that had romped to an undefeated 14-0 record against other ACC teams during the regular season. The Gamecocks were one of the top teams in the country in 1970, but their star player, John Roche, went down with a bad ankle sprain in the semifinals of the conference tournament against Wake Forest. Roche basically played on one leg in the final game loss to North Carolina State and South Carolina’s season was over.
"It was really heartbreaking for me," Cremins says more than 40 years later. "I didn't respond very well. I was an emotional mess. I wish now I would have dealt with that a little bit better. But I was just too heartbroken to go back to school. I finally drifted back. I don't even know how I got back. I think we hitchhiked back."
That was the end of Cremins’ college playing career. But he went on to be a great coach. When his Georgia Tech team won the ACC championship on their way to the Final Four in 1990, the Yellow Jackets did it in Charlotte. That was the first time the tournament was played there since 1970, when his great South Carolina team lost in Charlotte.
There was heartbreak for another college basketball team in 1970. Mark Scott, news director emeritus at WBFO in Buffalo reminded me that St. Bonaventure, the small Franciscan school near Buffalo, also had a great team that season, led by center Bob Lanier. He was the main reason St. Bonaventure made the Final Four. But Lanier didn’t get to play in that Final Four. He had suffered a season ending knee injury in the regional final game against Villanova.
That regional final game was played on South Carolina’s home court in Columbia. I don’t think Bobby Cremins was watching.
- Bobby Cremins, captain of the 1970 South Carolina Gamecocks men’s basketball team, at the University of South Carolina.