August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Sikowis and Nick Estes: The Failed System, Schemes of Non-Profits and A Regenerative Future


Bioneers moderator Alexis Bunten, Nick Estes, Sikowis Nobiss

Sikowis and Nick Estes: The Failed System, Schemes of Non-Profits and A Regenerative Future, at Bioneers

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News


SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Estes, Lakota professor and co-founder of The Red Nation, and Sikowis, founder of Great Plains Action Society, described the Christian Colonial Capitalism, imperialism and theft of Native land that led to the current failed system and deceptive schemes of non-profit philanthropy.

"We don't need to cry on the shoulder of white men who stole our land for funding --  even though they are morally obligated in my opinion," said Estes, Lower Brule Sioux, transitioning to be a professor at the University of Minnesota. Estes is co-founder of The Red Nation and founder of Red Media.

Speaking at the Bioneers Conference in San Francisco, Estes and Sikowis described the failed system of capitalism in the United States, insidious with fascism, and the economy based on theft of land, the enslavement of blacks, and genocide of Indigenous People.

They shared perspectives on a new regenerative economy, based on this simple concept: Mother Earth is to be protected and cared for -- not something to be used.

Discussing philanthropy, Sikowis said only a small portion of foundation funding goes to indigenous-led initiatives. The white-led organizations that are working on Indigenous issues are exploiting the issues.

"There's so much paternalism, it is ridiculous."

"The typical colonizer descendant thinks we're stupid, and that we can't handle ourselves, that we can't fix our problems."

Pointing out the lack of funding for initiatives led by Indigenous women, she said, if you give Indigenous women funding, it is going to be amazing.

She said true sovereignty is when people can feed themselves.

"I want to see them invest in proper food systems."

She said tribes do currently have food sovereignty initiatives, but it is not enough.

"That is what is really going to help us, with the climate and social injustice."

Sikowis, who has a master's degree in religious studies, described the history of Christian Colonial Capitalism and pointed out that this is not a concept that foundations are eager to hear about or fund.

Fascism is now mainstream. 

Within Indigenous ways of being, she said, there is this basic fundamental understanding, this tiny little thought: "The Earth is Your Mother."

"If you can make that switch go in your head, from thinking of the Earth from something you consistently take from, to something you want to protect and keep healthy, that can change how you do business."

"It's so simple."

"I live by that."

Sikowis and Estes described the history of the colonized United States, from the enslavement of blacks, to the theft of Native land, to the genocide of Indigenous People. The foundation was the Doctrine of Discovery which was based on the colonizers' view that Indigenous Peoples were not human.

Sikowis said, "I don't know if you can really decolonize these systems, I think we just need to take them down and bring in an Indigenous-led regenerative economy."

Estes described the imperialism, Christian supremacy, and false glory at the root of the formation of the United States.

Estes shared his reaction to the writings of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie wrote about a Lakota chief who was living like everyone in his tribe.

"Andrew Carnegie was kind of appalled."

"For him, equality felt like oppression," Estes said.

Estes said it was obvious this man was showing his humility and humbleness, and that he was just as poor as the poorest person in his society, and that is why he is a leader.

Carnegie went on to become a sort of prophet of philanthropy, Estes said.

"My question, on one hand, is why didn't you just pay your taxes first of all -- why did you have to exploit so many people -- why did you have to hide all your money in a non-taxable foundation."

For Native people, the current system was not meant to succeed. Education and health care were consistently underfunded.

Estes described the taking of the wealth from the land and how children were held as hostages, to get their parents to sell the land. He pointed out the loss of royalties and the mismanagement of funds as revealed in Elouise Cobell's class-action lawsuit.

As for the Homestead Act, he said, the system is set up for the enrichment of a very few.

Capitalism should be challenged and the class warfare inherent in it, Estes said.

Referring to mining in the Congo, Estes said, "The children mining what we use in our cellphones can't even read the contracts."

Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos are "enemies of the planet."

"These billionaires, in my opinion, shouldn't even exist in the first place."


About the Bioneers Panel

"Indigenous Pathways to a Regenerative Future." at Bioneers today. Nick Estes and Sikowis.

Indigenous Peoples already do “green jobs,” integrate cultural values into business activities and protect 80% of the world’s remaining 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, Sikowis (Plains Cree/Saulteaux), Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), and Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yupik) will discuss colonial capitalism and how Indigenous-led strategies can offer us a pathway towards an equitable and regenerative future.

Nick Estes, Ph.D. (Kul Wicasa/Lower Brule Sioux), is an 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.

Sikowis (aka Christine Nobiss) (Plains Cree/Saulteaux, George Gordon First Nation) grew up in Winnipeg but has been living in Iowa City for 16 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.

Censored News original series from talks and panels at Bioneers

Sikowis and Nick Estes: 
The Failed System, Schemes of Non-Profits and a Regenerative Future

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Oil Companies Bring Terror to Ecuadorian Amazon

Rights of Nature Attorneys Describe Emerging Movement in Indian Country


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