Indigenous Economy on the Global Stage


With only five months left in his second term, President Barack Obama is not resting on his laurels. Indeed, the Chief Executive embarked on the eleventh Asian trip of his presidency while making history at every turn. This trip to Asia, the last of his presidency, witnessed the first time a sitting American president paid a visit to the landlocked Southeast Asian nation of Laos.

At a visit to the Northern Laotian city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fuses rich Buddhist architecture alongside French colonial villas, Mr. Obama addressed a gathering of 350 young activists attending a YSEALI town meeting at Souphanouvong University where the president encouraged a wide ranging question and answer session.

 “Part of the point of YSEALI is that in each of us, in each of you, there’s the potential to change the world,” Mr. Obama said. “And you don’t know exactly who it is here that’s going to make some world-changing business or organization or environmental idea. But if we empower everybody, then we will all benefit from the talents of those people. And this is true whether you’re talking about non-for-profit work or if you’re talking about business.”

The president gave a shout out to the manufacturing capacity of the nation's indigenous population. He said that one of the key factors in helping underdeveloped areas of Southeast Asia catch up to the rest of the world is the harnessing of the traditional talents practiced by various tribes in the region.

“My mother worked in Southeast Asia most of her life,” he said, “working with women in villages to try to help them get more money through selling handicrafts and developing small businesses.”

And the cause had always remained close to his heart. Later he drove this point home even more forcefully when he cited Mimi Sae-Ju, who founded the Lisu Cultural Heritage Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand to promote and preserve the indigenous history of her people. “She sells handicrafts made by Lisu women, which helps them earn a living and makes sure that their culture lives on in future generations," he said.

JungleVine® Foundation and the Nature Bag

The good people at JungleVine® Foundation warmly received this message. For more than a decade, the group has worked with a remote mountainous people, the Khmu, who have been using time honored production methods to fashion the Nature Bag. Formed from wild growing jungle vines used to create their all-natural, eco-friendly bags, the JungleVine® Foundation supports the Khmu tribe's efforts to create an enduring product that has captured the imagination of the global, green friendly population. Utilizing production methods honed for millennia on the steep mountainous slopes of their tribal area, the Khmu's Nature Bag is a must have for the environmentally conscious.

It is from Luang Prabang that our Laotian partners, or diplomats if you will, travel from on their trips into the mountains to visit the Khmu villages where our products are produced in artisan homes. To us, it was rather prophetic that such a historic event would take place in the same city as our own base of operations and that he would so strongly emphasize beliefs that so closely mirror our own.

For 5000 years the Khmu have lived in harmony with the mountain forest they call home. Their way of life is not only what we call carbon neutral, it is actually carbon negative, returning more to nature than it takes away. There is wisdom in their ways.

Photo credit: White House