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Occupying the Land: Traditional Patterns of Land and Resource Ownership among First Peoples of British Columbia

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Turner, Nancy; Jones, James T.
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1952
Sector: Social Organization
Land Tenure & Use
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
land tenure and use
property rights
indigenous institutions
Native Americans
social organization
Abstract: "A frequent misconception of early European settlers in what is now British Columbia was that the Aboriginal inhabitants were not really using most of the land, did not really 'occupy' very much of it, and held no real concepts of ownership for either the land or its resources. This perpsective was encouraged among the newcomers, who otherwise might have had to restrict their own desired occupation of the land and conform to existing codes of ownership. "In fact, First Peoples throughout the region had well developed concepts of territory, occupancy and proprietorship over lands and resources with firmly embedded protocols for resource use and distribution within and among families and communities. These concepts varied from one cultural group to another, and access to some areas and prime resources, like salmon streams and valuable root-digging and berry gathering areas, were more closely controlled than others. In all cases, however, traditional proprietorship was inextricably linked with responsibilities of the owners for stewardship and sharing of resources. "We provide examples of different cultural models of land and resource ownership, ranging from communal control of territory at the tribal level for Salishan peoples, to more specifically focused hereditary ownership and control of lands by clan chiefs, as practiced by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Kwakwaka'wakw, Haida, Nisga'a and other Northwest Coast peoples. The implications of these systems of ownership for resource sustainability are also discussed. The systems have been largely disrupted from the imposition of European law and property systems, but they still exist, and with new arrangements for land tenure deriving from treaty negotiations, they may be reinstated to some extent in the coming years. There is a good potential for improving contemporary resource management through incorporation of some of these traditional models of land tenure and use."

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