What is Indigenous Economics

Indigenous economics are a new force in the world. Indigenous peoples throughout the world are asserting their rights to own land and to actualize their goals in a post colonial world.

Indigenous knowledge is the basis for indigenous economics and is based on the precept that ancient knowledge is superior and effective in allowing native peoples to subsist and to even prosper with less impact on the environment than European, Western or modern world economic behavior can accomplish.

Viewing the land as inseparable from the people and their cultural identity is something that globalization, where alien entities operate to maximize production and growth, with the vast majority of the benefits going elsewhere. Then there is the maximum damage to the land and the attraction of mutual hostilities of foreign nations, while the people of the land recieve no benefit.   

The indigenous economies are actually pre-industrial in nature. They are classified as hunter-gatherer, pastoral (livestock husbandry), and agricultural. While most indigenous economies are hybrids of the three forms, such economies are highly productive and adaptable to the various environments of the world, including some very harsh environments. 

The traditional sales pitch of globalized corporations virtually sneers at preindustrial activities and is based on growth for it’s own sake  along with “trickle down” economics.  There is the assumption that some of the profits of massive mining, production, outsourcing and other commercial activities will improve life for the peoples of a nation.

 Instead, the indigenous peoples are marginalized and kept from active and successful participation and decision making at the levels that global corporations reserve for entitled foreigners, while engaging either in disenfranchisement, removal, war, or substandard labor conditions for the many.

As a result, the completely marginalized must resort to war or crime in order to subsist or self actualize. Urbanization compounds the problems by making people either dependent upon global corporations, the government, or crime in order to survive.

Indigenous economies operate with relatively lower population densities, but with opportunity for all to serve a function that produces subsistence, community, self actualization, respect for the land, national and cultural identity, and safety and security.

Three major features of indigenous economies are that they are based on ancient knowledge that comes from interaction with the localized nature of the land; a respect for the land and environment that maintains a successful balance between use, maintaining habitat for animals, and husbanding; and less aggregation of wealth to a few while the majority suffer in poverty and lack of human rights.

One clear statement is “What indigenous experience tells us is that an economy is about fairness and equity. It should be for the well-being of your people and the sacredness of creation. You take care of your place because it provides for you. And the place provides for you because you’re protecting it. We have to begin to rethink our economic system so that it’s accountable for our place.” 1

But it makes no sense to dismiss small format farming that uses traditional methods or “primitive” operations, while technologically “advanced” farming creates great volume, but creates concentrations of land ownership wealth for fewer and fewer people. The migrant farm labor situation in the United States serves as an example of poverty that supports wealth. 

The other comparison is in massive damages to the environment. The recent desertification in China serves as an example. Small format farming allows subsistence with far less damage to the land, independence and self actualization, with just enough surplus for producing other goods for trade in communities that exist for the good of all in the community.

In other words, indigenous economies allow societies that survived well before European invasion to go back to the principles and structures that sustained them for millennia. The spread of demand for supporting programs of indigenous economics that are enhanced by some new technology has been world wide, with projects in African countries, Canada, Australia and other parts of the world.

Introduction to Africa – Ecology, Economies, and Technologies 

Sarah Van Gelder and Rebecca Adamson, “Age Old Wisdom For The New Economy”, Yes!, July 2009