Lakota Tribe Adopts MazaCoin, A Bitcoin-Esque Digital Currency

Just how big an impact can Bitcoin-style digital currency have on everyday life? A Native American tribe is trying to find out: the Lakota Nation has made MazaCoin its official currency, and more are taking note. But the legality of the enterprise, as the FBI contacted the Lakota chief to warn him months ago, isn't entirely clear.

It's pretty easy to get confused in a conversation about these new digital currencies. Bitcoin emerged as the first and primary "cryptocurrency" of its kind back in 2009. In essence, it was a new type of money, created and traded as a digital asset. New Bitcoin is kept flowing into the market by "miners," who generate the currency using high-end computers custom-tailored to the task. In subsequent years, similar currencies, while broadly less valuable and less trafficked, have emerged to comprise a host of Bitcoin alternatives — or "Altcoin," as they're known.

MazaCoin is just one such Altcoin, able to be mined by those with the time, money and equipment, as well as traded. But the Lakota are being assertive about it, specifically working to the benefit of their reservation's economy — they're planning to hold back half of all the MazaCoin in reserve, as a means to try to keep control over its price stability.

MazaCoin was developed and championed by Lakota Native American activist and Payu Harris, whose motivations are clearly rooted in a sense of social justice and improvement for his people.

I think cryptocurrencies could be the new buffalo. Once, it was everything for our survival. We used it for food, for clothes, for everything. It was our economy. I think MazaCoin could serve the same purpose.

And according to Harris, the enthusiasm for this new model has begun to spread — he's said other tribes have contacted him about joining in using MazaCoin, or another unique Altcoin for the same purpose. But there's a nagging that the U.S. federal government will ultimately try to thwart their bid for a sovereign Altcoin. Chase Iron Eyes, who serves as legal council to the South Dakota Lakotas, told the Verge.

There hasn’t been a tribal nation that has declared its own currency and has mandated that that currency is used within its borders. But it’s because of this pervasive, ever-present asserted dominion of the United States. They’ll try to shut us down, try to cite us with law violations.