Indigenous Commons and Advocacy to Promote Empowerment: An Examination of Reservation Commons on the Central High Plains

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Date

2000

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Abstract

"This paper will examine local perceptions of common property resources and environmental issues regarding those resources based on anthropological research conducted on a reservation on the central plains of the United States. More specifically it will discuss issues related to the loss of common property control due to the allocation and leasing of land, environmental degradation as a result of overgrazing on leased lands, and the need to reclaim control of common property resources on the reservation by the indigenous nation. "The paper employs two main strands of analysis: "Firstly, an examination of the historical imposition of a limited land base upon an indigenous nomadic population by the establishment of a reservation for that population in the United States. "One aspect of this examination discusses the impact of sequestering this traditionally nomadic, hunter-gatherer population within a limited reservation area and the subsequent allocation of those reservation land commons as private land assignments to individual members of the population. This policy was based upon an agricultural view of appropriate land use and conflicted with the more holistic indigenous concepts of land as a non-owned and shared resource. "Another aspect critical to this examination is the economic development of the community, a development which necessitated leasing a major portion of the allocated lands of the commons to non-members for private use as grazing lands for cattle operations. The original reservation commons has diminished due to a combination of circumstances. This has resulted in a reduced access to the allocated lands used by the indigenous population. "Secondly, critical to the analysis of contemporary issues related to land use is the consideration of the complexity of the existing structure of private ownership, allocated ownership, fractionalization of inherited parcels, tribally controlled parcels and the federal government stewardship of land areas established within the original boundaries of the reservation. Attendant to this fragmented structure is a critical loss of ability to address, on any immediate or practical level, the environmental impact of overgrazing the leased lands. "An overview of the environmental impacts at present includes a summary of concerns related to erosion, surface water pollution, and wildlife concerns as they reflect crisis in the ecosystem. Currently, there is a need for a comprehensive platform which could provide access to the information, education, and practical resources and which could be available to the entire population in regards to strategies for addressing those issues. Advocacy is discussed in terms of the need and potential for creating such a platform in the community which would provide access to information on available strategies and resources as well as training programs for practical skills. "A key premise is that a better informed population is a more empowered population: An empowered population can more effectively consider the question of what strategies might be effectively utilized in regaining control over the reservation commons and addressing the environmental issues which have impacted it."

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IASC, common pool resources, land tenure and use, indigenous institutions, Native Americans, policy analysis, advocacy, grazing, environmental degradation, nomads

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