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Boundaries and Pathways: Indigenous Communities, Ancestral Domain, and Forest Use in Palawan, the Philippines

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: McDermott, Melanie H.
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, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/778
Sector: Social Organization
Forestry
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
boundaries
social networks
land tenure and use
migration
indigenous institutions
forest products
Abstract: "Indigenous people, their allies, and the states which they have recently challenged have centered their contests over rights and resources on the issue of boundaries--boundaries of territory and boundaries of identity. In the case of one Philippine indigenous community and its struggle for state recognition of its ancestral domain, however, this study finds that boundaries are less important than 'pathways,' i.e., flows across boundaries. If boundaries represent social relations of inclusion and exclusion from group membership and access to resources, pathways indicate social relations of access and exchange. This paper examines how local responses to changing macro political-economic factors, in particular migration, markets, and state interventions, transform these boundary and pathway relations, and thereby resource use patterns and the productivity and diversity of the landscapes they shape. "Market and migrant pressures are commodifying and partially privatizing land, further commodifying the historic trade in forest products, and deepening debt. Together these trends are stimulating economic differentiation within the community, largely along ethnic lines. In response to these pressures and to the opportunities provided by the states boundary-making policy initiatives and by pathway alliances with non-governmental organizations, Batak and Tagbanua 'tribal' people are making strategic use of a newly pantribal 'indigenous' identity to formalize and defend their 'ancestral' territorial boundaries. "I argue that when boundary-based policy instruments fail to address pathway relations of access to resources, particularly political and financial capital, they consequently make it difficult for indigenous people to maintain territorial boundaries and sustain forest-based livelihoods. In its early phases, then, it is not surprising that the ancestral domains policy has not significantly modified the shifts in resource use patterns brought about in response to previous state actions, migration, and market forces. Specifically, all farmers are shortening swidden fallow periods, while the better-off are planting tree crops and establishing irrigated rice fields; at the same time, harvesters continue to over-exploit forest products. Indicative data suggest that the shorter term environmental impacts include loss of biodiversity, declining yields to shifting agriculture and forest harvesting, and a slower, but more permanent, rate of forest conversion."

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