The Economic Characteristics of Indigenous Property Rights: A Canadian Case Study

61 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2016

See all articles by Dwight G. Newman

Dwight G. Newman

University of Saskatchewan College of Law

Date Written: June 24, 2016

Abstract

Legal and economic scholars have increasingly drawn attention to the impact of property rights issues on economic prosperity for Indigenous communities around the world. In the context of a constitutional provision entrenching Indigenous rights in a state whose resource industries have an international strategic significance, Canadian courts have been and are currently engaged in a process of creatively developing the parameters of various Indigenous rights, including Indigenous property rights. This Article will argue that in doing so, they have developed certain characteristics on those property rights that seemingly undermine Indigenous communities’ own opportunities to make economically beneficial choices concerning uses of their own lands for resource development. The Article will ultimately suggest that this case study raises concerns about the idea of courts focused on public law considerations being positioned so as to develop the private law characteristics of Indigenous property rights. To do so, focusing first on the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Aboriginal title decision in the Tsilhqot’in case, Part II of this Article engages first in the complex legal doctrinal task of trying to unpack certain aspects of just what the Court actually said on Aboriginal title and its parameters. Part III builds upon that description of the nature of the Aboriginal title property right and related writing by economic scholars to consider the economic implications of characteristics of that property right, which exhibits — relative to what would have been possible with different drafting of the judicial rules — uncertainties of scope and incentivization of attempts to create further uncertainty, simultaneous imposition of roles to multiple decision-makers on uses of the property and of surprisingly fragmented ownership characteristics, and significant restrictions on alienability of property rights. These characteristics may lead to significant economic consequences both in the context of Indigenous communities contracting with outsiders (such as with resource development proponents) and in the context of members’ own use of the land. The latter parts of Part III try to show the practical consequences for specific resource developments that might be considered by Indigenous communities, such as in the context of a mining development. Part IV, engaging with broader law and economics scholarship on the efficiency of common law adjudication processes, tries to offer some explanations of why the courts are developing these rights in ways that have these economic characteristics, in part by showing how the context in which they are operating is distinct from traditional common law contexts in which scholars have shown why courts have developed legal doctrines that fit more closely with economic efficiency. Part V tries to offer some policy responses that could help to promote the development of more economically functional property rights for Canadian Indigenous communities. Although the particular discussion is situated within Canadian legal doctrine, it will also conclude by referencing broader implications, both for American resource investors and for analogous contexts elsewhere in the world, including for the possibility that courts are not best situated to develop the shape of Indigenous property rights when their adjudicative processes are structured in certain ways.

Keywords: Aboriginal title, Indigenous, property rights, law and economics, economics of property rights, Tsilhqot'in

Suggested Citation

Newman, Dwight G., The Economic Characteristics of Indigenous Property Rights: A Canadian Case Study (June 24, 2016). Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 2, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2800260

Dwight G. Newman (Contact Author)

University of Saskatchewan College of Law ( email )

15 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A6
Canada
(306) 966-4847 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://law.usask.ca/find-people/faculty/newman-dwight.php

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