Indian Economist Might Have an Answer

Mark your calendar. Winona LaDuke will visit Tamástslikt on Monday, February 28, at 6:30pm. Come to the theater to hear her talk about indigenous sustainability and resilience. Thanks to Fishtrap of Wallowa for bringing her our way and enabling Tamástslikt to host her talk. Besides being one of the most well-known American Indians in the U.S., Ms. LaDuke is a Harvard-trained economist and an Anishnaabe (Ojibway) member of the White Earth Reservation. What a timely combination, to be an economist and an Indian.

America has been in an economic downturn since 2007, but what about Indians? How long have Indian reservations been in the downward economic spiral? Are we still affected by the fact of having no economy whatsoever for umpteen years? This thought intruded while reading the 2010 Atlantic article, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America.” The following doesn’t necessarily relate at all to Ms. LaDuke’s upcoming talk but it’s a sampling of what economists do.

Author Don Peck gives this quote:

“… no other circumstance produces a larger decline in mental health and well-being than being involuntarily out of work for six months or more. It is the worst thing that can happen…equivalent to the death of a spouse, and ‘a kind of bereavement’ in its own right. ”

Who knew? Peck goes on:

“Children with unemployed fathers seem particularly vulnerable to psychological problems. But a large body of research shows that one of the worst things for children, in the long run, is an unstable family. … This kind of churning is terrible for children—heightening the risks of mental-health problems, troubles at school, teenage delinquency, and so on—and we’re likely to see more and more of it, the longer this malaise stretches on.”

It’s a good thing we’re resilient. What sounded worse were the potential effects on the community in which a horrible phenomenon called schadenfreude comes into play. Schadenfreude (‘sháadenfroyda’, German for “damage/joy”) means happiness at the misfortune of others, or satisfaction that others have it worse than oneself. “Schadenfreude is a powerful psychological force,” Peck writes. What does it all mean?

Another economist, Benjamin Friedman, concluded, “people become more jealous of their status relative to others. Anti-immigrant sentiment typically increases, as does conflict between races and classes; concern for the poor tends to decline.” Is that what’s happening to America? See what fonts of wisdom economists can be when they give the socio- spin.

Undoubtedly Ms. LaDuke will have a cheering word. And her talk will be couched in the traditional knowledge systems of tribes and relate to modern economics in that way.
Don Peck’s whole article appears at

Winona LaDuke

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