A quiet revolution: Canadian tribe rejects collectivism in favor of private property and economic development


Author: Brian T. Hodges

In what has been coined "a quiet revolution," the Nisga’a tribe of Northwest British Columbia rejected a collectivist property scheme in favor of private property and economic development. Until recently, home ownership has been denied to treaty Indians living on reserves in Canada. All land in the Nisga’a reserve was owned in common and controlled by the tribal council. In lieu of home ownership, the tribal council would issue a certificate of possession that could only be transferred to other tribe members, and existed at the whim of tribal government.

Last month, the tribe passed the Nisga’a Landholding Transition Act, which implements a voluntary program allowing residential property in the reserve to be owned in fee simple. This means that individual tribe members will be able own their home and land completely, with the rights to pass the property on to their children, rent, or sell the property to whomever they choose. One of the primary reasons undergirding this revolution is the acknowledgment that private property ownership is the foundation for wealth creation. Under the new law, tribe members will be able to take loans on their property, unlocking a source of individually held wealth to finance home improvements and small businesses. Commentators have lauded this move as an "innovative" and "radical" move toward solving the problem of native poverty by giving tribe members access to funds and the ability to chart their own course for economic development.