Indigenous cryptocurrency: Affective capitalism and rhetorics of sovereignty
First Monday

Indigenous cryptocurrency:
Affective capitalism and rhetorics of sovereignty by Cindy Tekobbe and John Carter McKnight



Abstract
Financial technologies embody and shape notions of social, as well as financial, worth. New digital ‘alt-finance’ systems, including the blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin and similar ‘cryptocurrencies,’ are no exception: technology, rhetoric, imagined users and non-users, and a long history of sociotechnical, political, and cultural relations are all elements in a dynamic assemblage with wide-ranging consequences. This paper examines the rise and fall of one alt-finance system: MazaCoin, a Bitcoin variant intended to benefit the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The story of MazaCoin is one of an attempt to unite two apparently divergent sociotechnical assemblages: (1) a libertarian, elite technology of cryptocurrency, and (2) a richly traditional indigenous community with a deep desire for cultural survivance, bound up in a precarious economy left behind in the wake of more than a century of genocide.

Contents

Introduction
Decolonizing rhetorics as narratives of accountability and solidarity
MazaCoin: A cultural convergence
Theorizing the digital decolonizing efforts
MazaCoin: A media and digital forum construct
Conclusions

 


 

Introduction

Over the past decades, financial and information technologies have evolved in rough parallel, from corporate finance and international trade to microlending and person-to-person digital financial transfers. Critical analysis of these developments varies by discipline: anthropologists studying migration to urban areas in Kenya bring different assumptions, lenses, and analytical tools than do computer scientists developing new uses for blockchain technology. Similarly, outside the academy, perspectives on innovations in digital financial technologies run from critical perspectives growing out of the Occupy movement to the techno-libertarianism associated with Silicon Valley. Given this wide disparity of ideologies, rhetorics, and modes of analysis, we were fascinated to discover a project that attempted to bridge two seemingly disparate communities: cryptocurrency fanciers and members of a North American tribal community.

This transdisciplinary project applies methods and discourse from the disciplines of science, technology, and society (STS); indigenous rhetorics; cultural rhetorics; digital rhetorics; and, feminist research methods to attempt to engage the early efforts of Payu Harris, a member of the Oglala Lakota community, to advance the new cryptocurrency, MazaCoin, as a solution to his community’s economic and social issues in 2014. We first introduce Mr. Harris and his MazaCoin project, describing the project’s rapid rise and fall and, as best we can determine, its current status. Then, we theorize decolonizing efforts as they intersect with affective capitalism and digital spaces. Next, we examine several key moments in the MazaCoin timeline through this theoretical framework. Finally, we consider the future of decolonizing efforts as they encounter neoliberal digital platforms and networks.

As a feminist endeavor, this project considers the positionality of the researchers, as well as requiring reflexivity and transparency. Additionally, indigenous rhetorics and methods expect the development of relations and relationships among participants and researchers and, as such, our project maps the formation of our working, transdisciplinary partnership with a shared stake in the survivance of Native American peoples. The cultural, colonial, and social issues we discuss here, we will carry forward with us as we continue this project, as well as inform how we engage new opportunities for collaborative endeavors.

 

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Decolonizing rhetorics as narratives of accountability and solidarity

We approach this article in the decolonizing and indigenous rhetorics narrative practice of sharing stories to create the groundwork for accountability and solidarity (Bratta and Powell, 2016; Dougherty, 2016; King, et al., 2015). We begin with the story of how we came to work on this project together: we met as graduate students at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, Arizona, where we were sharing research space in the Games and Impact Lab. Over many key clicks and pots of hot tea, we learned we were both born and raised in the American West, with its high desert landscapes and ranging American Indian reservations and territories — a shared identity with which we both feel deeply connected. We share similar alternative paths to academe with Cindy returning to graduate school after a career in the technology industry and John returning to graduate school after a legal career. Both of our work histories intersect the financial sector and our individual research interests include both networked technologies and social justice. We like cats. We are close friends.

In 2014, John was studying peer-to-peer finance in a post-doctoral research appointment at Lancaster University, U.K., and Cindy was completing her dissertation at ASU. In February, John saw mention on CoinDesk.com of a new bitcoin variant, MazaCoin, launched by the “Traditional Lakota Nation” (Bradbury, 2014). He sent the paper’s link to Cindy, asking if she had seen any coverage of the unlikely story in North American or Native American media. Cindy agreed it seemed unlikely and suggested they each look for additional media references and then Skype to discuss their findings. At the center of their interest in the MazaCoin story was an abiding concern for the representation of the Lakota people and culture by a media that tends to represent Native Americans as poverty porn (Carrigan, 2013; Jensen, 2014) for mass consumption, a scholarly investment in the emerging alt-currencies as cultural identity work around the world, the potential for alt-finance practices and platforms to reach underserved communities, and a deep skepticism about any rapid adoption of a techno-cultural project in the economically tenuous Lakota territory. What followed was almost a year tracking the media coverage of the rise, fall, and attempted resurrections of the MazaCoin project. In its language, images, and positionalities that coverage mirrored the conflicting and intersecting interests of cultures, identities, technology narratives, platforms, peoples, and histories of North America.

We submitted our findings in a proposal to IR16, the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, in Phoenix, Arizona, where we presented in a conference venue that had meeting rooms named for Arizona Native American nations and which was constructed around traditional Native American kiva architecture. These are relatively common features in Arizona, which is home to more than 20 sovereign Native American nations. For the conference, John returned to Arizona from the United Kingdom and Cindy from her new position at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. We acknowledge this conference brought us full circle: a return to the American West with its persistent indigenous presence, and a return to our research partnership. We, and our project, are grown from a specific space and time, and it is specifically this awareness of space and time that we wish to convey to our readers as they consider our analysis of the MazaCoin endeavor grounded in the indigenous decolonizing notions of space and time.

 

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MazaCoin: A cultural convergence

Officially launched on the altcoin exchanges on 20 February 2014, MazaCoin first came to the authors’ attention from the 6 February 2014 Coindesk article, “MazaCoin aims to be sovereign altcoin for native Americans” by Danny Bradbury. Coindesk is a digital currencies news Web site, at http://www.coindesk.com. The article introduced the entrepreneur behind MazaCoin, Payu Harris, as a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. In the article, Harris is described as launching MazaCoin under the “Bitcoin Oyate Project” or BTC Oyate, with the altcoin depicted as offering fiscal autonomy to indigenous peoples: “An independent crypto currency would eliminate the State/Federal ability to freeze accounts and tamper with lawful tax revenues” [1]. Harris further explained that BTC Oyate was designed to specifically benefit the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where he resides, but that he also envisioned cryptocurrencies as being beneficial to other tribal groups: “if a tribe forms an update or brings up a direction they feel is important, representatives for each tribal Economic Development Administrations or crypto currency development directors can come together and vote on adoption by other regions or tribal governments” [2]. While Harris described the “crushing poverty” of the Oglala Lakota, Bradbury used U.S. census data to describe the aggregate poverty of Native American households as twice that of the national average. Here, Bradbury compressed the Native American experience into homogenous generalizations, although the economic context for the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Harris calls home is specific and emerges from Lakota history, rather than being something that is possible to generalize about from aggregated census data.

On 27 February 2014, Forbes ran an article by Jasper Hamill, “The battle of little Bitcoin: Native American tribe launches its own cryptocurrency.” Hamill quoted Harris as inspired by gazing over the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn: “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” [3]. Hamill also described Harris as an Oglala “chief” and declared that MazaCoin “has now been officially adopted as the national currency of the Lakota Nation” [4]. Hamill briefly referenced the confusion around how the new currency will help the Lakota, and then reported that the FBI had contacted Harris to warn him about the illegality of cryptocurrencies. Hamill bookends his piece with martial metaphors, calling Harris the “son of the once-mighty Oglala Lakota Tribe,” and linking the MazaCoin initiative to historic Lakota battles with the U.S. military. Here, rather than generalizing the Native American experience, the journalist appropriates and romanticizes the “once mighty” Lakota, spinning a traveler’s tale of scrappy uprisings and the triumph of the noble few against the overwhelming federal forces.

At the beginning of March, 2014, Nick Spanos, director of the New York Bitcoin Center, flew Harris out to ring the opening bell at the Center and meet with the media and potential MazaCoin investors (Consunji and Engel, 2014). Between February and March, 2014, Harris completed many interviews and received global press attention. MazaCoin was trading briskly on the exchanges, buoyed by media interest and the image of a small Native American resistance against the mighty federal government that dovetailed well with affective capitalist narratives of self determination, libertarian bootstrapping, and anti-regulatory sentiments.

On 3 March 2014, MazaCoin was reported to an audience primarily of Native American peoples and those interested in Native American issues. In “9 questions surrounding MazaCoin, the Lakota cryptoCurrency: Answered” in Indian Country Today, a Native American news Web site (at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com) that covers stories of indigenous interests across the U.S. and Canada, Alysa Landry (2014) described the Pine Ridge reservation as encompassing the second poorest county in the United States, which is a clearer representation of the economic conditions at Pine Ridge than many other media stories. Landry also described Harris as “a 38-year-old dad who once operated a video store on the reservation” and identifies his tribal affiliation as “Northern Cheyenne” [5]. Landry contacted John McKnight, one of the authors of this paper, and quoted him in her article describing the speculative nature of cryptocurrencies and advising against them for tribal peoples whose interests are in protecting and cultivating their current assets to benefit the greater community. Between cautionary statements and alternative suggestions by McKnight, Landry sandwiched information from Harris that he “believes as many as 50 percent of [reservation] merchants will buy into the system within the first 12 months” [6] and that Harris hopes to see cryptocurrencies as a standard for all indigenous communities within 10 years. This positioning of generally unrealistic optimism between the ‘expert’ comments of an outside scholar appeared to reflect the growing unease surrounding MazaCoin on Pine Ridge.

On 7 March 2014, Native Sun News ran “Oglala Sioux tribe surprised by MazaCoin plan” by Brandon Ecoffey, its managing editor. Ecoffey subtitled his article, “Man claims OST has launched own currency; Council and President taken by surprise.” He opened his story with “The Oglala Sioux Tribe supposedly launched its own national currency. However no one bothered to inform Tribal President Bryan Brewer or the Oglala Sioux Council” [7]. Ecoffey referenced the Forbes article’s claim that Payu Harris is a chief and a member of the Oglala at Pine Ridge, yet noted that his name does not appear anywhere on tribal rolls. The comments thread on the article has the BTC Oyate Initiative contesting that Harris ever claimed to Forbes he was a chief or that MazaCoin had been officially adopted. Dana Lone Hill, listed as a contributor at Last Real Indians, a news Web site (at http://lastrealindians.com) that runs stories of events and issues in Native American communities in the United States and Canada, responded to the BTC Oyate Initiative comment that Harris lacks credibility because he is available to the mainstream media for interviews but not to the Native Sun, and she asks “how could anyone ever trust money you can not see?” Hill was not the only skeptic as stories and comments spread through forums and in the Pine Ridge community that Harris had, at best, overstepped and was, at worst, a con artist (Consunji and Engel, 2014).

In less than two weeks, MazaCoin had collapsed to near-worthlessness on the exchanges. A few weeks after that, Harris split with his coding partner in the initiative and Spanos declared the project all but dead (Consunji and Engel, 2014). Supporters of MazaCoin then moved to a Reddit forum where they attempted to disseminate information and assist Harris as grassroots cryptocurrency supporters believing they had found something unique in the Native American ethos of MazaCoin. In September 2014, Mashable’s Bianca Consunji and Evan Engel described Harris as another failed cryptocurrency launcher, “unfailingly optimistic, technologically obsessed, and supremely self-assured” [8]. At some point in 2015, MazaCoin and the BTC Oyate Initiate Web site, Facebook page and Twitter accounts were deleted. The effort was reorganized as simply ‘Maza’ and is more broadly characterized as an indigenous-initiated cryptocurrency with mass appeal. The open source code has now been moved to GitHub, but there is scant public information available about the development team or sponsors which is either sympathetic or suspicious, depending on the positionality of the observer. Across media characterizations, Harris is a deeply invested member of the Pine Ridge community, a snakeoil pitchman, a collectivist, a technolibertarian, an insider, an outsider, a traditionalist, an innovator, a warrior, and an opportunist. He and his project are maybe all or none of these things, but MazaCoin and its founder offer a unique opportunity to discuss current indigenous decolonizing and sovereignty movements as they intersect digital financial spaces and monetized platforms.

 

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Theorizing the digital decolonizing efforts

Indigenous scholars remind us that research as it involves indigenous peoples has a racist history and continues to be troubled ground.

Research “through imperial eyes” describes an approach which assumes that Western ideas about the most fundamental things are the only ideas possible to hold, certainly the only rational ideas, and the only ideas which can make sense of the world, of reality, of social life and of human beings. It is an approach to indigenous peoples which still conveys a sense of innate superiority and an overabundance of desire to bring progress into the lives of indigenous peoples. [9]

If the goal of indigenous scholarship is to address political and social inequities and to heal and decolonize communities, then we must not usurp the autonomy of the Oglala Lakota, Payu Harris, or other indigenous voices as we attempt to analyze and interpret the reception and failure of the MazaCoin project (Suzack, et al., 2010). We are deeply mindful that the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge are perhaps the most studied of Native American communities and that the false and racist thesis that the poverty and social ills of Pine Ridge boil down to the confinement of a warrior tradition without weapons or battles left to fight has deeply harmed the Oglala Lakota (Deloria, 1988). Therefore, we are not engaging Harris as a participant, nor are we interviewing Pine Ridge leaders or residents, so as not to further muddy the waters that have been stirred by competing narratives and priorities (Schell and Rawson, 2010). Our task then is not to rely on colonial hierarchies for organizing information, but to accurately represent what we collect and be transparent about how we frame and relay our data. Thus, this is not a study of the Oglala Lakota or their economic conditions or decisions. We do not view Payu Harris as a text or passive subject; Harris’ narrative is his own. Rather, our interest is in how Harris and MazaCoin are constructed by media representations and choices, which are surely influenced by the cultural beliefs and stereotypes that surround Native American peoples.

Financial technologies create classes of users and non-users (e.g., the ‘unbanked’) that are true ‘classes,’ not mere categories. While arguably all technologies are “neither good nor bad nor ... neutral” [10], financial technologies reify social relations and attitudes around money, which in some cultures is closely coupled with notions of moral, as well as economic, wealth and poverty. The design of these technologies, from cash to publicly-traded corporate securities to a range of ‘alt-finance’ innovations, inscribe and communicate messages about social as well as financial value: consider the difference between paying for a purchase with rumpled dollar bills, a black American Express card, or Apple Pay on an iPhone. For academics studying the social uptake of alt-finance, there are two ur-stories: Kenya’s M-PESA and Bitcoin. John was drawn to the story of MazaCoin in part as it seemed to be an attempt to unite the narratives and relations underlying these two very differently situated technologies.

By contrast, the Bitcoin narrative is highly individualistic, if often pseudonymous (‘Satoshi Nakamoto,’ the inventor of the blockchain underlying Bitcoin and its variants, continues to conceal any identifiable personal details), rooted in libertarian, even Randian, notions of individual value creators in opposition to corrupt, outdated governmental institutions, particularly in the realm of finance and ‘fiat money.’ Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin and MazaCoin, require significant sophistication in both computer science and finance to use and extensive computational and electrical power to maintain. This design is neither accident nor coincidence: despite the claims of universal uptake by cryptocurrency advocates, cryptocurrency’s design and ideology both mandate a distributed technological elite beyond the control of governments, a notion dating back to John Perry Barlow’s (1996) “Declaration of independence of cyberspace.”

The early discussion of MazaCoin seemed to conflate these two narratives: spontaneous action of non-elites and a high-profile individual advocate, anti-government rhetoric and an apparent governmental endorsement, sophisticated hardware and software for a region noted for its poverty. John’s analysis of the sociotechnical assemblage of peer-to-peer lending in the U.K. (Ferreira, et al., 2015; McKnight and Fish, in press) suggested two possible outcomes: either abandoning a populist assemblage in favor of a product aimed at elites, as happened with peer-to-peer finance in the U.S., or attempts to modify both the technology and its associated narratives to appeal to a non-elite audience, as was under way in the U.K. MazaCoin’s narratives suggested the prospect of a third way.

 

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MazaCoin: A media and digital forum construct

On its current Web site, which emerged some time in 2015, MazaCoin is now renamed simply ‘Maza,’ and the bitcoin variant is described:

Maza is like a new kind of currency for a new economy. It is being used by a social movement that has already built a new economy in the midst of the old. It is an economy focused on local community, inspired by ancient traditions of the Lakota people and implemented using innovative economic ideas we developed over generations. The Maza economy is more sustainable, more resilient, more prosperous, more accessible and more fair than the old economy. Welcome to a new age ... . (maza-online.com, n.d.)

The website is HTML5 and built on an open source template, Spatial, authored by Templated that describes it as “[a] simple, spacious, minimalistic design topped off with a large cover image” (templated.co, n.d.). The new Web site features images of Lakota in ceremonial dress (see Figure 1) and a clear description of Maza as “a decentralized payment system and distributed currency exchange,” along with a discussion of the block chain, ledger, and open source code which is available on GitHub (maza-online.com, n.d.).

 

Screenshot of maza-online Web site
 
Figure 1: Screenshot of maza-online Web site.

 

This glossier Web presence replaces the now-deleted original sites and Twitter accounts for the project launched under the moniker BTC Oyate and its more homegrown looking logo of red, black, yellow, and white (see Figures 2 and 3). Unlike the original Twitter account, there is no reference to the “National Currency of the Oglala Lakota Nation” and, unlike the original Web site, there are no images of Lakota warriors and their iconic horses (rt.com, 2014). There are no specific declarations of sovereignty and Lakota prosperity. The social media presence here has been polished and the Oglala historical signifiers have been removed so that it appears the audience is no longer the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota, but an alt-currency audience looking for professionalism, stability, and investment opportunities. While the image of ceremonially dressed Oglala Lakota is a clear statement of Native American culture, it is a mainstream statement familiar to a greater public discourse that knows pow wows and fancy dancers, but not specific tribal identities, histories or the places where these converge. This is native American culture for the masses (Gilyard, 1999).

 

MazaCoin Twitter profile
 
Figure 2: MazaCoin Twitter profile.

 

 

BTC Oyate Twitter profile
 
Figure 3: BTC Oyate Twitter profile.

 

However, this newer, more consumable web presence is not the beginning of the positioning of MazaCoin, Harris, or the Oglala Lakota as consumables. In the Coindesk article, Bradbury frames Harris’ rhetoric of sovereignty within journalistic objectivity, but that objectivity also undermines Harris’ own agency. In recounting that one of Harris’ goals is to give the Ogalala Lakota fiscal autonomy from the federal government, Bradbury writes: “‘One of the favorite tactics used by the Dept of Interior and the local State Government is to threaten to freeze bank acounts if the tribe takes a position that could challenge a State or federal interest,’ [Harris] alleged” [11]. Bradbury follows with “Harris argued that the tactic has been used several times before against tribes operating casinos. ‘An independent crypto currency would eliminate the State/Federal ability to freeze accounts and tamper with lawful tax revenues,’ [Harris] said” [12].

Here Bradbury uses “alleged” and “argued” to describe Harris’ recounting of Native American conflicts with federal and state authorities. Rhetorically, would Native American communities require an initiative that might bring them more fiscal autonomy if their autonomy was not historically threatened? Or, with the common knowledge that Native Americans were relocated by force from their ancestral homes, their property and assets siezed by the federal authorities, is there no general public awareness that Native Americans have a history of limited fiscal autonomy? Clearly, there is a historical record to affirm a desire for Native American autonomy in general. However, Harris makes a specific statement that federal and state authorities coerce tribal compliance by threatening tribal assets. This is Harris’ account of his own understanding of his own history. Bradbury is not obligated as a journalist to accept Harris’ accounts of his own history wholesale, however, it is imperialistic to frame those accounts as arguments and allegations when they could just as easily be credibly framed as anecdotal or tribal discourse (King, et al., 2015).

Other media accounts decline to frame MazaCoin as a Native American story in favor of creating a consumable product for audiences. The 3 March 2014 rt.com article “Lakota nation adopts MazaCoin crypto-currency as legal tender” opens with the declaration that a “Bitcoin spinoff known as MazaCoin has been adopted by a confederation of seven Native American tribes as their national currency. The Oglala Lakota Nation has expressed hope that it will draw the tribes out of poverty” [13]. The article then drops in the non sequitur that “[m]embers of the tribe included Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse — famous for their role in the Battle of Little Bighorn, during which they were key in securing a victory over General George Armstrong Custer” [14].

John, whose scholarly interests include Russian popular media, came across this Russia Today piece and sent it to Cindy, asking specifically about the reference to the “seven” tribes. It is an interesting reference because it does not seem to originate in the American media about MazaCoin. The Oglala are one of seven related bands of Lakota, commonly referred to in American discourse as ‘Sioux tribes.’ Equally attention catching is the reference to the historically famous, and often romanticized, Lakota chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, as well as the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Together, these facts read like Wikipedia notes to the international reader who might be familiar with the idea of Indians and the popular image of Sitting Bull, but not the complex history or inter-relatedness of the Lakota.

The popular image of the Lakota carries through many of the MazaCoin stories. Jasper Hamill (2014) for Forbes also invokes the warriors-without-a-battle trope of the Lakota with his “The battle of little Bitcoin: Native American tribe launches its own cryptocurrency” article. Perhaps an editor thought that play on words clever, but it also reinforces the nineteenth and twentieth century stereotype of self-inflicted Lakota poverty as the warriors refuse to change with the times, still frozen in their tidy dioramic battle with the American Army (Deloria, 1988).

Hamill reinforces his metaphor with phrases like “son of the once-mighty Oglala Lakota tribe,” and “this time the war wouldn’t be fought with arrows or bullets, but with QR codes and cryptography” [15]. Additional Hamill warrior references include “opening skirmishes,” “great many battles to be fought,” and “this war is just getting started.” However, in only one of his quotes does Harris mention this history when he states about Pine Ridge that his “family fought and died on this soil.” In all other cases, Harris talks in language of communalism: “how we might fix [Pine Ridge poverty]” and referring to MazaCoin as the “new buffalo,” as a shared Oglala resource. Harris speaks of leadership, community, children, and prosperity for the Oglala. Hamill, in writing a fictional Indian war story, writes over Harris’ self-reported account. He replaces Harris’ language with his own, and organizes his story around a colonial narrative of conquest (Sprague, 2005). Payu Harris’ account in his own words is rendered irrelevant in a Western narrative, but it is hard to determine entirely the source here. MazaCoin is a capitalist initiative of a romanticized warrior people. Which narrative is more compelling to the audience of Forbes? The capitalism or the conquest?

 

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Conclusions

Today, there are two primary MazaCoin presences on the Internet: the glossy Maza Web site, and the MazaCoin Reddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/MazaCoin/. The Maza site offers an investor experience, while the Reddit remains a forum for a few cryptocurrency enthusiasts who discuss ‘shamanic economics’ and hold a kind of paternalistic interest in Native American matters.

For example, one thread suggests using the mazachain to repurchase ancestral lands. The notion of purchasing lands that were seized from the Lakota is not a cause of the people who are still in conflict with the U.S. government over treaty violations. It is not a cause of a people for whom the significance of the spaces is not in its measurable acreage or title, but in its centrality to the unbroken cultural memory of the Lakota. You cannot repurchase what you never sold and you cannot buy back that which was forcibly erased. The Lakota are not post-colonial, because for the Lakota and other indigenous peoples, the colonizers and their hegemony remain.

However, it seems unsurprising that the investor narrative and the paternalistic narratives have emerged from the original story of Payu Harris’s MazaCoin given the intersection of popular discourse, digital media, and affective capitalism. Given that native Americans are still widely viewed as the nineteenth century ‘Indian problem,’ it is a simple matter to subsume their voices and overwrite their stories. While the underlying technologies of peer-to-peer finance could enable both a system for corporate elites in the U.S. and middle class investors in the U.K., arguably the sociotechnical assemblage of a cryptocurrency and the self-expressed economic and social needs and values of its intended beneficiaries were simply incommensurable.

John’s work in the U.K. examined a firm’s successful marriage of two financial technocultures: an entrepreneurial culture tending to believe that data analytics can solve almost any problem and one of middle class English near-retirees valuing stability and prudence. The firm’s solution was to bury its techno-geek backend and define their brand with symbols of down-home values (McKnight and Fish, in press). While Harris was able to attract Redditor interest in a digital-financial project with a whiff of paternalistic exoticism, his failure has been in making a case to the product’s intended beneficiaries. This is the story behind quite a bit of economic ‘development’ activity in the past half-century, in which beneficiaries and users are abstracted away from their self-expressed needs, identities, and goals within an economic technoscience dazzled by its own ideology of quick, high-tech interjections into complex socio-economic networks.

The question we began with remains: can alt-finance speak meaningfully to and with indigenous economic realities? How would a successful rhetoric of economic technoculture that could embrace Reddit and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation arise, and what might it contain?

For Cindy and John, we will continue to observe the story of MazaCoin, as well as efforts at alt-currencies by other indigenous peoples. We continue to theorize that alt-currencies have potential for important cultural identity work and that alt-financials have the potential to support the efforts of those traditionally underserved by the global financial sectors. Yet we remain aware of the tendency to colonize and repurpose the initiatives of minority groups, and we hope our scholarship in these areas serves as a potential antidote and a call for justice. End of article

 

About the authors

Cindy Tekobbe is an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric, and English Studies, at the University of Alabama. She is an Affiliated Faculty Researcher with Michigan State University’s Writing, Information, and Digital Experience research center, and Managing Editor of Constellations: A Journal of Cultural Rhetorics. Her current research explores the intersections of marginalization and technological master narratives in digital spaces. She is an enrolled daughter of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
E-mail: cindy [dot] tekobbe [at] ua [dot] edu

John Carter McKnight is an Assistant Professor of Sociology of Emerging Technologies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and a former corporate finance attorney. His research explores the role of digital product design in enabling and constraining communities of users in online and off-line spaces.
E-mail: jmcknight [at] harrisburgu [dot] edu

 

Acknowledgements

We would like to extend our thanks to the editors for supporting this project and offering us a home for our transdisciplinary scholarship. We appreciate the Association of Internet Researchers and its membership for the opportunity to present our scholarship to a receptive and collegial audience. Finally, in the tradition of the discipline indigenous rhetorics and practices of native survivance, we offer our deepest gratitude to the indigenous peoples of North America, upon whose ancestral lands our institutions are built, and whose cultures and ways of being and knowing, our institutions continue to colonize, commodify and erase.

 

Notes

1. Bradbury, 2014, n.p.

2. Ibid.

3. Hamill, 2014, n.p.

4. Ibid.

5. Landry, 2014, n.p.

6. Ibid.

7. Ecoffey, 2014, n.p.

8. Consunji and Engel, 2014, n.p.

9. Smith, 2012, p. 56.

10. Kranzberg, 1986, p. 545.

11. Bradbury, 2014, n.p.

12. Ibid.

13. rt.com, 2014, n.p.

14. Ibid.

15. Hamill, 2014, n.p.

 

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Editorial history

Received 5 September 2016; accepted 6 September 2016.


Creative Commons License
“Indigenous cryptocurrency: Affective capitalism and rhetorics of sovereignty” by Cindy Tekobbe and John Carter McKnight is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Indigenous cryptocurrency: Affective capitalism and rhetorics of sovereignty
by Cindy Tekobbe and John Carter McKnight
First Monday, Volume 21, Number 10 - 3 October 2016
https://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6955/5632
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i10.6955





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