IndigiDAO: Bringing Blockchain to Indigenous Communities

IndigiDAO founder Henry Foreman believes blockchain technology can be used to help authenticate handcrafted work made by Indigenous artisans.

AccessTimeIconOct 14, 2022 at 4:26 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 14, 2022 at 4:59 p.m. UTC
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“My tribe is Absentee Shawnee – the tribe of Tecumseh,” says Henry Foreman. “He created his own tribe among tribes, building a larger community. So this is my version of something that’s deep in my history.”

Foreman is the founder of IndigiDAO, a new cryptocurrency education and development project that will be featured at CoinDesk’s IDEAS conference next week.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Tecumseh traveled widely from the Shawnee’s homeland in the Northeastern U.S., building an intertribal coalition to resist European incursions. That model remains a powerful inspiration for Native Americans and other Indigenous groups.

IndigiDAO is a finalist in CoinDesk's Web3athon. The winners are announced at the I.D.E.A.S. conference October 18 and 19.

IndigiDAO is Foreman’s effort to draw together a similarly scattered group: Indigenous artisans and entrepreneurs. Foreman launched the project as part of his role as program director at New Mexico Community Capital, where his focus is on business, finance, and technology education for aspiring Indigenous businesspeople.

Though IndigiDAO has sprawling ambitions, it’s starting with two primary goals. On the one hand, Foreman says entrepreneurs in his community want more education on crypto.

“This is a form of digital financial literacy,” he says. “We want to meet entrepreneurs where they’re at.” IndigiDAO is building a hands-on educational program that starts with basics like setting up wallets, and proceeds to more complex applications and concepts.

At the same time, traditional craftspeople face a concrete problem that blockchain technology could help solve: authentication of handcrafted work, which is often imitated and undercut by non-Native interlopers.

“It’s a big issue – people making fake Indigenous art, jewelry, copying designs,” says Foreman. “Our traditional makers aren’t making enough income, aren’t being [properly] valued in the traditional marketplace. They gather the mud from the riverside and hand-fire it. It’s hard for that to compete [on price] against someone who’s buying a pot made in a factory and just painting it.” Issuing non-fungible tokens to authenticate items created by IndigiDAO members could be one way to tackle fakes.

But IndigiDAO wants to do more than solve one market problem. Its mission states it aims to “advance Indigenous core values like collaboration, reciprocity, shared ownership and nourishment-based exchange without exploiting the communities and individuals involved.”

That’s particularly intriguing for Native American tribes, including the Absentee Shawnee, whose members receive basic income-like dividend payments from tribal enterprises such as casinos. Foreman believes a DAO could become a model for helping tribal members use those funds more effectively by coordinating – even among members scattered across wide geographic areas – just as Tecumseh’s coalition did two centuries ago.

“Can you imagine a tribe that adopted a shared governance model?” Foreman asks. “That would be game changing.”


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David Z. Morris

David Z. Morris was CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.