Land Reform in the Fifth World

52 Southwestern Law Review 239 (Forthcoming)

12 Pages Posted: 21 May 2023

See all articles by Jessica A. Shoemaker

Jessica A. Shoemaker

University of Nebraska - College of Law

Date Written: May 15, 2023


In this time of rapid climate change and gaping inequality, we face urgent questions about the ability of current property systems to sustain us into the future. But how does property-system change happen? Land reform is difficult to imagine, much less implement, within a physical landscape already so lavishly built and also embedded with deep layers of tradition, experience, and law. In this short Essay, I argue that there are important lessons from Ezra Rosser’s recent book, A Nation Within: Navajo Land and Economic Development, for the wider project of Indigenous and, ultimately, American land reform. Property scholars ignore these issues of Indigenous property and land governance to our collective detriment.

This Essay makes three particular contributions. First, I outline with some specificity why centering contemporary Indigenous land tenures within any wider study of America’s already pluralistic property system is so important. Second, building on Rosser’s detailed case study of Navajo land and economic development, I draw some wider lessons about the process of how land reform happens. Although law change is needed to implement many desired innovations, the Navajo experience underlines the critical role of local action, imagination, and persistence. Finally, the Essay takes a brief journey to review the experience of some First Nations in Canada—where Indigenous-led land reforms are also being pursued in a similar but different context—to expand on ideas about the architecture of successful land reform projects. When we widen our scholarly attention—humbly, and with respect—we find an abundance of critical, active land-reform projects that are ongoing and worthy of greater care and concern as we reimagine our future together in this world, and maybe the next.

Keywords: land tenure, land reform, property, law, land use, federal Indian law, Canada, Indigenous law, First Nations Land Management Act, environment, economic development, treaty, system change, adaptive management

JEL Classification: K11, D63, Q00, Q01, Q15, Q24, Q25, Q28, R52, Q10, Q56, R30, R39, K10

Suggested Citation

Shoemaker, Jessica A., Land Reform in the Fifth World (May 15, 2023). 52 Southwestern Law Review 239 (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Jessica A. Shoemaker (Contact Author)

University of Nebraska - College of Law ( email )

103 McCollum Hall
P.O. Box 830902
Lincoln, NE 68583-0902
United States

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