Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

November 14, 2021

Economies of Compassion: Transitioning Away from Settler Colonialism and Extractive Industries, at Bioneers

Economies of Compassion: Transitioning Away from Settler Colonialism and Extractive Industries, at Bioneers

Article by Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Regenerating new economies depends on moving away from extractive industries, honoring the rights of nature, and reviving traditional farming and food practices, a Native panel said at the Bioneers Conference on Saturday.

Nick Estes points out that the economy of capitalism in the United States began with the removal of Indigenous Peoples from their land for cotton production in the south. 

And with this came labor from Africa "at the end of a whip."

The destinies of two peoples were intertwined.

Nick Estes, Lower Brule Lakota and professor at the University of New Mexico, is co-founder of The Red Nation.

Nick points out that the conversation today of regenerating economies is possible  because of the Cochabamba Accords, ten years ago in Bolivia, which brought to the forefront the rights of nature.

Nick joined Sikowis, Plains Cree/Saulteaux, and founder of the Great Plains Action Society, on the Bioneers Panel, Indigenous Pathways to a Regenerative Future.

Sikowis said the U.S. economy is Christian Colonialism Capitalism, and its foundation is based on the concept of "having dominion over the earth."

This is not the concept of Indigenous Peoples.

Sikowis referred to compassion-based economies, and the example offered by the Potlach.

“Being wealthy within some of our nations meant that the more you gave the wealthier you were. I think that confuses people sometimes. It’s foreign to settler mentality. We need to build an Indigenous-led regenerative economy built on compassion."

In contrast, today the governments of the world are focused on profits and the exploitation of labor and resources.

"The colonization process is about stealing land and labor," Sikowis said, referring to the governments of the world working with fossil fuel industries during the United Nations Climate Summit, COP26, in Scotland.

The Bioneers panel, Indigenous Pathways to a Regenerative Future, explored how to transition from colonial-capitalism using Indigenous-led strategies. The discussion centered on pathways towards an equitable and regenerative future, paths that transition from extractive industries to sustainable economies.

Sikowis said the transition to take back sovereignty can begin with feeding one's self. Farming and first foods offer not only economic benefits, but also provide healing, both mentally and physically.

"There's so little work being done in this realm," she said, pointing out the encouragement offered by the restorative efforts down the Mississippi River.

Sikowis said growing food results in growing economies.

Regenerative economies do not greenwash and are built on traditional knowledge. She said what is needed now is a shift in consciousness, focused on the longevity of the species of this planet.

Nick points out that while pipelines like Enbridge attempt to sway public opinion with the promise of jobs -- what these destructive industries are actually doing is bringing an end to jobs.

Enbridge jobs now jeopardize the Anishinaabe wild ricing economy.

"It didn't destroy the planet."

During this time of ending the extractive industries and transitioning to a different economy, Nick said, "We are in a protective mode."

Speaking on the Red Deal, based on Cochabamba Accords from a decade ago, Nick said the US bears the climate debt, and this debt includes the military carbon emissions.

Sikowis said, "Capitalism is the laziest way of doing anything." 
She said if profit is always the bottom line, then you have to do everything as cheaply as possible.

She points out that an economy built on compassion is focused on the next seven generations and profit is looked at in a very different way.

"It might not be so quick and fast," she said, but its goal is to bring an end to injustice.

Pointing out the extractive industries on Native American Nations continue, Nick said, "We haven't moved away from extraction colonialism."

On the Navajo Nation, the extractive industries include coal, oil and gas, and uranium.

During this time of shift, destructive mining industries are being included in the push for renewables, including copper and lithium, used for batteries in electric vehicles.

It is Indigenous Peoples who are expected to make the sacrifice.

Nick said Resolution Copper mining now targets Apaches sacred Oak Flat. The Osage oil murders, and the damage done by pipelines, are examples of why Native Nations need to strengthen sovereignty.

Panel moderator
Alexis Bunten, Unangan/Yupik, co-director of the Bioneers Indigeneity Program, described the battle to halt Pebble Mine in Alaska.

Alexis said capitalism is about running in place and going nowhere. "We call it a rat race for a reason," Alexis said, adding that economies should not be about "running to stay in the same place."

View the panel on demand by registering at the Bioneers Conference.

Indigenous Pathways to a Regenerative Future

Peoples already do “green jobs”—they integrate cultural values into business activities and protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. In order to transform our economies through Indigenous-led solutions, we need to uplift movements and stories inspired by Indigenous resistance. To do this, we must change the culture of philanthropy and impact investing, which still largely circulates in privileged circles. In this panel, we will explore how to transition from colonial-capitalism using Indigenous-led strategies that offer us pathways towards an equitable and regenerative future. With: Sikowis (Plains Cree/Saulteaux), founder, Great Plains Action Society, speaker/writer/artist; Nick Estes, Ph.D. (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), historian, author, Professor at the University of New Mexico, co-founder, The Red Nation. Hosted by Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yupik), Co-Director of the Bioneers Indigeneity Program.Founder | Great Plains Action Society

Sikowis (aka Christine Nobiss) (Plains Cree/Saulteaux, George Gordon First Nation) grew up in Winnipeg but has been living in Iowa City for 15 years. She is the founder of the Great Plains Action Society, “a collective of Indigenous organizers of the Great Plains working to resist and Indigenize colonial institutions, ideologies, and behaviors.” She speaks, writes and organizes extensively on Indigenous rights, the climate crisis, environmental collapse and colonial capitalism.Assistant Professor of American Studies | University of New Mexico

Nick Estes, Ph.D. (Kul Wicasa/Lower Brule Sioux), is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and a member of the Oak Lake Writers Society, a group of Dakota, Nakota and Lakota writers. In 2014, he was a co-founder of The Red Nation in Albuquerque, NM, an organization dedicated to the liberation of Native people from capitalism and colonialism. He serves on its editorial collective and writes its bi-weekly newsletter. Nick Estes is also the author of: Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.
Co-Director of Bioneers Indigeniety Program | Bioneers

Alexis Bunten, Ph.D., (Aleut/Yup’ik), Program Manager for Bioneers’ Indigeneity Program, has been a researcher, media-maker, manager, consultant, and curriculum developer for organizations including the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Alaska Native Heritage Center, and the FrameWorks Institute. She has published widely about Indigenous and environmental issues, and is the author of So, how long have you been Native?: Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide. (

The Red Nation

Read more:

“The Red Deal asserts that the fight for climate justice must center Native people when it comes to the issues that disproportionately impact Native communities, but it also communicates what the Green New Deal does not — namely, that public lands are stolen lands and climate change is significantly caused by just a few industries,which the government has at worst neglected to hold accountable and at best assisted in their efforts to mine the earth for resources in a move that put profits over people.” —Teen Vogue

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