Native American Tribe Adopts Its Own Bitcoin Clone

“I think cryptocurrencies could be the new buffalo,” said a Lakota Nation activist.

Pow wow
A pow wow at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.National Geographic / YouTube

Payu Harris, a Bitcoin developer and activist at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, made a promise last year to continue his tribe's struggle against the United States.

"My family fought and died on this soil," Harris told Forbes, surveying the land of his tribe, the Oglala Lakota Nation. "Suddenly the story of Custer's Last Stand wasn't just words on a page but something deeply personal. I looked at how things were for the tribe now and suddenly had an idea about how we might fix it."

That fix is a Bitcoin clone called MazaCoin, which Harris hopes his people can use to sidestep the federal government, and lift themselves out of poverty. Although exactly how that might happen is unclear. Harris convinced chiefs to accept it as the official national currency; it's the first time native people have launched their own cryptocurrency. It started like this, as Forbes noted:

After signing a joint venture agreement with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Office of Economic Development early in 2014, Harris immediately began mining his new currency to produce 25 million MazaCoins ahead of its launch to serve as a “national reserve” for the Lakota Nation, which can then be used in times of crisis (like the collapse of Mt. Gox) to help stabilize the currency. A number of these coins were handed out to interested businesses and individuals within the community, to encourage them to get involved in trading and speculating. On Monday of this week, the genesis block of this new currency was hashed, so that all future transactions can be traced back to it, and 500 MazaCoins were produced and dedicated to the “Great Spirit and the prosperity and wealth of the Oglala Lakota Nation”. Now it is being traded on cryptocurrency exchanges around the world. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

The FBI allegedly phoned the Lakota chief to inform him that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are still not legal, but Harris appears undeterred, and is launching an educational campaign as to how the alt-coin works, working along the same principles as Bitcoin. A few local businesses have agreed to start using the currency in addition to cash.