Cross posted from AIAN Attack the System
The traditional forms of commonly owned tribe and clan property have been the economic arrangements that have sustained our people for thousands of years. Recently our property and resources have been reorganized into private and public property; forms of property control that serve the US Government, not tribes. When tribe resources are rearranged into public property, a class of people must be formed to control access to resources: Tribal Governments, or in some cases, a representative organization of the federal government.
Under the clan/tribe system, tribal governing bodies of professional bureaucrats are unnecessary to control and maintain resources. The reason is because a tribe has its own survival at heart, which means that it must provide for its people. This means treating tribe property as private property of the tribe as a whole. This also means respecting, maintaining and taking care of the tribe’s resources. The way this is done in many tribes is through educating young people about the proper care, attitude and respect to be given when collecting or utilizing resources. This is why Native Americans often preach respect for the land, and only taking as much as one needs, because doing otherwise undermines the security and well being of the tribe.
On the other hand, when resources are made public, then they are doled out, often without the best interests of the community at heart. An excellent example of this is the old inter-clan system of territorial fishing rights in the Tlingit Nation, what is now called southeast Alaska. Under the old system of clan ownership, every tribe and clan in the region could identify which rivers and waters belonged to them, and which belonged to others. Members of the clan were taught a deep respect for the natural resources under the control of their clan. Through a cultural system of social norms the clan managed its resources in such a way that the fish runs were maintained and became one of North America’s greatest sources of high quality food. This laid the groundwork for the Tlingit’s complex society and rich, highly developed art form.
Enter the western concept of public/private property. Under the new system of resource management brought by the Americans, the fishing waters of the Tlingit Nation became the public property of all Americans. The result was disastrous. Now, when a Tlingit wants to fish his clan’s traditional territorial waters he must ask permission from the state of Alaska. Why must he ask? Because the wild salmon runs of Alaska are threatened, a mere fraction of what they were under clan and tribe management. The waters have been over fished because the westerners who arrived in Alaska lacked the long term, multi-generational vision that exists in the collective mind of a traditional Tlingit clan. They saw the rich, salmon swollen rivers of Alaska as plunder to be taken as quickly as possible.
A similar pattern occurred in the hunting grounds of tribes across the United States and on the east coast, where a large population of Native Americans was sustained through a combination of hunting and agriculture. Hunting forests, like the fishing grounds of the Tlingit, were considered property of a particular tribe or clan. When European settlers arrived, it appeared to them that we weren’t using the land, but only because their concept of land use meant cutting down trees and planting crops.
How does this form of resource management apply to modern days? It appears that it wouldn’t, but only because we have a difficult time imagining a modern economy based on commonly held clan property. I suspect that a mix of commonly held clan property and individually held private property would be appropriate, much as it was in the old days. We could imagine that any resource currently managed by a state or federal government could be effectively managed by a family unit, clan or tribe depending on the size or concentration of the resource. Fish, wild game, minerals, grazing ranges, rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges all come to mind. Additionally, public goods and services could be added to the list: streets, roads, parks, non-profit services, utilities and schools to name a few. The advantage of our clan/tribal system of resource management is that we can once again organize ourselves so that the resources benefit the very people who have an incentive to preserve, maintain, and take care of them.