Respect Indigenous Property Rights

The Anarcho Capitalists get it.

From the Ludwig Von Mises Institute

Environmentalists and mining companies are fighting over the fate of the remote Klappan Valley in northern British Columbia. The different sides struggle for government approval of their particular plans, but almost no one fully acknowledges the property rights of the first owners of the valley, the indigenous Tahltan people.

The Tahltan have lived in and around the Klappan Valley since before there were any states at all in North America. They defended this rich territory against rival tribes, as Tahltan leaders put it, “from time immemorial, at the cost of our own blood,” long before European contact.[1] They defended it against the mercantilist Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1800s. And now they are defending it against the corporate cronies of the central government.

Over the last few decades, Canadian governments have granted licenses to numerous mining companies, allowing them to operate in Tahltan territory. The most controversial project is Shell Oil’s coal-bed methane-fracking operation. It holds the risk of rendering the valley’s water source (called the Sacred Headwaters), and the plentiful salmon-spawning grounds it supplies, unfit for life.[2]

Like everyone else, the Tahltan want to share in the wealth of the global division of labor. Most of them want some mining on their land, because they expect to benefit from jobs working in or supporting the mines.

But they also want to balance the extraction of new resources with the preservation of old ones — the rivers and lands that they have loved, protected, built campsites on, buried their dead in, and profited from materially for centuries.

After futilely objecting to several potentially destructive mining projects through various legal and political means, a group of Tahltan mounted a blockade on the road leading to their valley in July 2005. The blockade lasted 62 days, and was broken only after the arrival of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Conflict and Property

Disagreements over what should be done with any object are easy to resolve if some person or group clearly owns it. If you own a tree that you enjoy climbing, and I think it would be better used for firewood, my only choice is to convince you to chop it down and set the thing ablaze.

No matter how much I want to burn that tree, the decision remains yours. If you don’t like my offer, you can simply say no.

The anarcho-capitalist philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues that "All conflicts regarding the use of any good can be avoided if only every good is privately owned, i.e., exclusively controlled by some specified individual(s) and it is always clear which thing is owned, and by whom, and which is not."

Without clear property rights, disagreements drag on and on, eventually ending up in the hands of the state, which is, as Hoppe says, “the final arbiter and judge in every case of interpersonal conflict.”[3]

And, surprise, surprise, when we’re arguing not about trees versus firewood but about gas mines versus burial grounds, the state tends to decide such conflicts in favor of whoever has enough money to bribe the bureaucrats.

By Canadian law, the Tahltan do not strictly own the valley. This is because their claim to it predates the existence of the Canadian state — and the government officials who conquered or negotiated treaties with most of the rest of Canada’s indigenous people never came into most of what is now British Columbia (BC).

In the late 1800s, it seems, the colonial government believed that BC’s “Indians” would simply give up and die out of their own racial inferiority. That didn’t happen.

Therefore, in the words of anthropologist Wade Davis, “Not a single First Nation had been defeated in battle, and by legal definition none had settled with the Crown or relinquished title to their lands.”[4]

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the Tahltan give little credence to the paper laws by which the state has tried to give away the rights to their property.

As Tahltan Erma Bourquin put it, "If there is anything happening in this land, we should be the ones who can tell them where they can and cannot go. That is why we have a voice. The land belongs to us."[5]

Read the rest at Ludwig Von Mises Institute


About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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