Friday, October 31, 2008

Indigenous Peoples, Common Pool Resources, and Natural Resources

Natural resource management planning has become a central activity in the management of resources across all levels of agency. Increasingly, management plans are being called for to secure rights to, and guide management of resources used or held by, indigenous people in less developed regions. A problem that is being encountered in the development of natural resource management plans and indigenous peoples is the differing understandings and perspectives each stakeholder has towards natural resources. While natural resource planners often break up a resource into its constituent parts, indigenous peoples often view them more holistically. This is especially true when it comes to what are known as common pool resources (CPR) and customary resource use norms associated with those natural resources.

In the context of common pool resources (CPR) that are used by indigenous communities, the development of natural resource management plans often involves formalizing the customary resource use norms or “unwritten rules” held by the local indigenous peoples. By documenting them in a format recognizable to non-indigenous professionals and government resource management bureaucracies such as through a management plan, a local resource management code, or a local ordinance the management of those natural resources can take on a collaborative dynamic with the local indigenous peoples. Likewise, the study of CPRs and common property management regimes has helped to advance understanding of indigenous and traditional resource management systems by recording and analyzing informal rule systems that govern resource use and management, and by proposing “design principles” associated with successful management regimes for CPRs.

Some have criticized this approach for neglecting the social and cultural dimensions of common property, especially the ways in which use and management of the commons are embedded in social relationships and in cultural systems of symbol and meaning. Others have pointed out that the rule-based approach to analysis and design of common property institutions fails to grasp the nature of management regimes, which are often based on more loosely constituted, implicit, and dynamic norms of behavior, rather then explicit rules for resource use. Particularly troublesome is the assertion that the institutional design approach may actually prove counterproductive where management regimes are norm-based and deeply embedded in existing social networks.

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