Thursday, June 12, 2014

Native hunting districts

Canadian Legal History Blog recently announced that Michel Morin posted "Propriétés Et Territoires Autochtones En Nouvelle-France II – La Gestion Des Districts De Chasse". (This topic should be of particular interest even to many otherwise indifferent to the particular historical topic, as Harold Demsetz's influential article on the development of property rights made use of his understanding of this history to support his theory on how and why societies move from systems of communal to private property.) The English-language abstract:
In northeastern America, the pre-Columbian origins of aboriginal family territories has created controversy in the past among anthropologists, just as the possibility that Algonquian peoples devised wildlife conservation measures by themselves. At the beginning of the 17th century, however, the French had no difficulty recognizing the territories of Indigenous Nations who controlled access to the area and exercised a form of collective ownership over it. Their chiefs also supervised the use of these lands. With time, the King’s representatives tried to convince the aboriginal inhabitants, who they called “brothers”, to grant each other the mutual right to hunt on each other’s lands. As was the case in Acadia, there existed in New France well-defined hunting “districts” that were exploited under the guidance of the head of a family band. Members from another band or outsiders had to obtain permission to hunt there, although occasional incursions without permission were tolerated. From 1660 on, conservation measures can be seen in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions. In the 18th century, these conservation practices are not documented for the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, but it seems unlikely that Indigenous people did not have wherewithal to devise such measures on their own. Overall, this conception of territory and ownership seems to have an Indigenous rather than a French origin. It is based on the existence of national boundaries and well-defined districts, even though French observers did not attempt to describe these with precision.

Deer-trap used by Algonquin and Montagnais tribes near Quebec,
from Samuel de Champlain, Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain
capitaine ordinarie pour le Roy en la Nouvelle France es annees 1615 et 1618

(Penn Library)

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