Owning the . . . all of it
“The private property society is . . . a bizarre mutation alien to most of humanity.”
—Andro Linklater, Owning the Earth
A story came across my feed yesterday regarding a court case in British Columbia that could end with almost all Crown land—land “owned” by the provincial government, otherwise known as public land—being back under guidance and control of First Nations. I’ve been trying to get my head around British Columbia environmental and property law as part of research on an ongoing cross-border environmental contamination situation involving a river, a dam, and the world’s second largest miner of metallurgical coal (the whole Teck Resources disaster for anyone who’s curious), so I’m very interested in the long-term implications of this legal ruling.
Where this BC Supreme Court decision will go is going to be fascinating, especially as, from what I understand, 95% of British Columbia is Crown land. As I crawl my way through a very readable but equally dense Buying America from the Indians, the murkiness of North American title and ownership transfer continues to show the ways in which history has been rewritten to attempt to solidify settler “ownership.”
This research was all originally part of a book proposal I’d been working on about ownership, private property, and the future of the commons. It has, unfortunately, been turned down by pretty much every publisher my agent and I sent it to, and while that situation is disappointing, it’s also enlightening. The responses were warm to the idea and the writing, but hesitant about packaging and marketing. An easy thing to be critical of, but despite so many people—including me—wanting to dismantle the systems we’re constrained by, people still have to make a living and businesses have to stay functional. I am sure the stories will find their places when they’re meant to.
I do believe that private property, the dominant way that this dominant society owns the world we live in and among, frames many of the problems this same world faces. I’ll keep working on it in different iterations, including here, because I can’t help it. It’s an idea that won’t let go.
I wrote something about chickadees returning a while back, and my mother emailed to tell me that chickadees don’t leave; it’s just that we start hearing their particular “cheeseburger” call in the spring.
There is so much of the world that never receives our attention. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better for it, but then realize how much damage is caused by that which we do give our attention to. I don’t usually even know, really, how to husband and care for my attention, and how to put it to best use. Does anyone?
Some things to read, listen to, or watch:
A fantastic dig into the nitty gritty of oil and gas leases on public lands from the National Wildlife Federation’s podcast Outdoors.
How misinformation acts like a virus, and how information can’t protect us, by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska in Aeon: “Suppose the perfect message does find a person in need of disabusing, and even succeeds in fixing their false beliefs: will that person’s attitudes and behaviour change accordingly? If you tell people that 97 per cent of climate scientists agree about the reality of global warming, studies show that you’ll likely increase their perception of expert consensus on the subject. But whether this greater awareness translates into action – say, support for carbon-reduction policies – remains unclear.”
Jesse Singal demonstrating the whisper-thin evidence for the influence of grit in Nautilus, which reminded me of Nicholas Tampio’s older Aeon piece about how grit might not be the educational panacea we’re looking for, and might actually be damaging to children.
“Field of Vision-Utuqaq” or “Ice has memory,” a riveting half-hour film on climate change, Greenland, and the blind spots of visiting ice researchers, directed by Iva Radivojević (narrated in West Greenlandic with subtitles).
Nick Martin writing in The New Republic about the difficulties that white/colonial culture and people have with interacting ethically with land. In this article, public lands, but Martin does get a bit into the commodity relationship—even when we’re “getting out into nature” to feed our souls, we’re still trying to extract something from it rather than engaging in relationship with it.
I just read the Canadian Supreme Court case that the current BC case is based on. It'll be interesting to see whether the claimants in the new case can each make the cases of continuous and exclusive occupation to the extent of their claims -- I'm going to guess that for significant swaths of BC, historical occupation was not exclusive. In what is now the US, various mountain and western dwelling peoples regularly went onto the plains to hunt buffalo. And there were famous engagements between the Blackfeet and others in the immediate vicinity of Missoula. Which native nation would get the Gallatin Valley? I'm not sure that's an easy question to answer. (I'll be happy to be proven wrong about that.)
There's a core territory that you could identify with each nation, and it's obviously going to be very different than the small First Nations communities you see in BC today. It'll be a huge task working it all out -- maybe the BC nations have agreed among themselves where one nation's historic exclusive territory ends and another begins, which is surely a big part of the battle.
Grit just makes for creaky joints. Currently I hold the belief that curiosity is the best thing to foster in a child.
I think all of life has an extractive motivation, but we're the only ones who aren't plugged into the balance function. Except in the long run. Then Nature will balance us away.