GOING BEYOND RECOGNITION: Building an Effective and Sustainable Property Rights Systems for Indigenous Territories

By Diego Silva

After indigenous land property rights are recognized by ILO 169 signatory countries (primarily in Latin America), there was a subsequent process to design and implement an adequate property rights system governing its use. In order for policymakers to implement a more effective and sustainable resource use policy, which promotes economic growth for indigenous peoples, it must be accompanied by the recognition and close analysis of customary norms. Open access and collective property arrangements present indigenous communities with social dilemmas over the use of their common-pool resources, with the potential to lead to resource depletion and conflict. Some of the reasons why constitutions in Latin America typically grant indigenous communities with the latter type of arrangement over their land are presented in this paper. The main challenge facing an effective resource management arrangement under collective property is for the members of the group to reach agreements to avoid over-exploitation and conflict. Trust and reciprocity are identified as the main factors leading to cooperation; customary norms are presented as facilitators of these factors insofar as they frequently take advantage of the group´s social capital and enjoy legitimacy of group members. In settings where effective commons management is reflected in group´s customary norms, external regulation may be damaging. On the contrary, in settings in which customary norms are not completely effective, or have not emerged, regulation could be considered necessary. Ostrom´s “design principles” provide important tools for policymakers insofar as they can be used to identify the cases in which intervention is needed, and the sectors where such interventions should and should not take place, according to the current state of customary norms in a particular community.

About the Author:
Diego Silva is an economist from the National University of Colombia, where he graduated with the highest GPA. He carried out specialization seminars in international economics at the Autonomous National University of Mexico. He has conducted field work in the Colombian Amazon working with multi-ethnic indigenous communities and in rural areas of Oaxaca, Mexico. He is currently a second year student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, thanks to a full academic scholarship granted by the Organization of American States. His main academic interests are property rights and resource management, post-colonial development studies and indigenous social movements. The author would like to thank Jennifer Whelly, Jean Daudelin and the editors of the International Affairs Review for their insightful comments and edits.

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