Ceivert LaForge hopes that people buying and selling goods and services on the Crow Indian Reservation are soon dealing with "scouts," not with U.S. dollars.
The scouts would be copper, silver and gold coins created and issued by the Crow Tribe, a "sovereign currency" for what is already a sovereign nation.
"We're not looking to trade clams or wampum anymore," LaForge said. "We're looking at trading gold and silver."
LaForge, director of the tribe's LLC Department, which helps people establish small businesses on the reservation, will join with other tribal leaders to introduce the new currency during the grand entry for the Crow Fair powwow Friday night at 7.
LaForge has been working on the project since March with Eddie Allen, director of Sovereign Economics, a Dallas-based business that helps "nations, states, communities and groups around the world" establish their own currencies, according to the company's website.
They are not looking for instant results, LaForge said, though he acknowledged that they hope to make quicker progress than the Lakota Nation. That tribe's currency is still little used on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, six years after it was first issued with Allen's help.
LaForge said their hope is that the currency will be introduced gradually, on a steadily increasing scale. Tribal employees, for instance, could receive most of their pay in dollars and a small portion in scouts, with the proportion of Crow currency increasing over time.
Business that have contracts with the tribe could also be asked to accept partial payment in scouts, he said.
One obvious benefit of having a Crow currency would be to encourage tribal members to spend their money on the reservation, LaForge said, which could in turn prompt people to open more small businesses on the reservation.
Allen said the slogan of the Lakota Nation effort to use its own currency is "Keep it on the rez."
Though the currency is designed to be used on the reservation, Allen said, it could be used by anyone anywhere who finds another person willing to accept it in return for wares or services.
To help finance the launching of the Crow currency, the tribe commissioned the minting of 1,000 silver medallions commemorating the Battle of the Little Bighorn and began selling them during Crow Native Days in June.
Those 1-ounce medallions are not considered currency and are being sold at $50 each, mainly to coin collectors or people with an interest in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Allen said.
LaForge said there were delays in getting the medallions minted and sales have been less than anticipated, but they are selling well now. He said that as part of Allen's commitment to the project, Sovereign Economics has agreed to pay for the minting of the first three of six Crow currency issues.
Each of the six issues will be coins stamped with the image of a different Crow chief. The coins sold Friday will be 10th-of-an-ounce silver pieces with a value of $5, bearing the image of Chief Sits in the Middle of the Land. They will be sold for $4.50.
Copper coins valued at $1 were supposed to be available Friday as well, but they are not yet ready. They will carry the image of Chief Red Plume at His Temple.
The Crow Tribe will pay for the minting of currency after the first three issues, LaForge said, and it is working to establish an Office of Currency to oversee the monetary system.
All proceeds will be deposited in a separate account and will be used only for the maintenance of the system, he added.
The minting is being done by the Mulligan Mint, which is also in Dallas and was founded by a partner of Allen's.
Allen said the kind of currency he is helping the Crow Tribe establish is known as a "voluntary, complementary currency." Something like it was common during the Depression, he said, when communities where U.S. currency was scarce or nonexistent issued their own "community currencies."
The trouble was, he said, those communities followed the federal government's example and issued paper money. It held its value until the dollar recovered, rendering the locally produced scrip virtually worthless.
That's why sovereign currency is based on precious metals; it will hold its intrinsic value no matter what happens elsewhere and is likely to increase in value if there is a breakdown of civilization.
On the Sovereign Economics website, there are nearly a dozen examples of groups and nations that have established their own currencies. They range from the Lakota Nation and the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi to the American Redoubt, a group of survivalists who hope to set up a "safe haven" in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and eastern Washington and Oregon "when our fiat currency collapses and society turns to chaos."
Allen said Sovereign Economics has tended to attract survivalists and extreme libertarians, but the company itself has no particular politics and focuses solely on currencies and economics.
Allen said more and more people and groups are looking at creating their own currencies because the dollar seems less stable every day.
"People are not going to wait around for the government to give them permission to survive," he said.
LaForge said he and others on the Crow Reservation expect the federal government "to get out of the Indian business" within the next 10 years. Establishing a Crow currency is part of a larger effort to promote self-sufficiency and economic growth, he said.
"Chuck E. Cheese has his own money. Why can't we?" he said.
LaForge said Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote will read a proclamation establishing the Crow currency Friday night at Crow Fair, and other tribal officials will also be on hand. Old Coyote could not be reached for comment Thursday.
LaForge said he won't make any money off the venture, which is pursuing only as part of his job as director of the LLC Department.
"If it's successful, I'm going to be a bad ass," he said. "If it's not, they're going to stone me out of the tribal office."