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Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648


Contemporary western notions of private property stem from 17th-century philosopher John Locke's Labor Theory of Homesteading. In this theory, human beings gain ownership of a natural resource through an act of original cultivation or appropriation. Locke used the expression "mixed his labour."

Labor Theory of Homesteading is a theory of natural law that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources. The theory has been used to justify the settler appropriation principle, which holds that one may gain whole permanent ownership of an unowned natural resource by performing an act of original appropriation.

SOURCE: How are Capitalism and Private Property Related?

The legal definition of land, according to Black's Law Dictionary, 9th ed., defines it as REAL PROPERTY as "land and anything growing on, attached to, or erected on it, excluding anything that may be severed without injury to the land. Real property can be either corporeal (soil and buildings) or incorporeal (easements)."

SOURCE: Black's Law Dictionary, 8th ed.


Indigenous Peoples think of Creation as something that includes and sustains all living things. People are part of it and responsible for caring for it.  The question of who owns it has no context.

Who owns it preoccupies colonial notions of the world. In the colonial taxonomy land is extractive, exploitative, and transactional thing to be dominated and regulated by humans. Every bit of land in what is now North America has some sort of ownership designation--Individuals own it, corporations own it, or the government, even land trusts are owned. The legal concept of the reservation is a structure to fit indigenous rights into colonial laws. If some­thing isn't owned, -air, for example-colonial notions consider it to be either free for the taking (mostly without value) or not yet owned.  

Indigenous Peoples have formulated a new idea of ownership­-- indigenous cultural property --to assert their place in a post-contact world of owned things.

SOURCE: Younging, G. (2018) Elements of Indigenous Knowledge.