Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Society for Cultural Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The creation of property has been a defining act in performances of state sovereignty, achieved via the exercise of violence and law. Within colonial rule, the creation of state-sanctioned property served as a mechanism for dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands.
During the 1990s, indigenous rights activists sought to invert this historical use of property via strategic litigation within the Inter-American human rights system. The result was an Inter-American jurisprudence on indigenous rights that identifies the source of indigenous peoples’ property rights outside the law of the state: that source is indigenous peoples’ practice of customary tenure, i.e. culture itself. According to the inter-American jurisprudence on indigenous rights, indigenous peoples’ practice of customary tenure creates rights in property, regardless of their lack of legal title within a state’s system of property. Inter-American judicial bodies insist that states must recognize and protect these rights in property in a manner equivalent to the protections provided for property created and sanctioned by state legal systems. Further, the practice of indigenous customary tenure creates collectively held property, transforming mere “property” into “lands and territories.”
This paper focuses on the aftermath of legal victories in land claims by Mopan and Q’eqchi’ Maya in Belize. It examines the possibilities opened by Inter-American judicial bodies’ recognition of indigenous customary tenure as a source of property, as Maya communities consider how to articulate the property rights created via their customary tenure practices with the property system of the Belizean state.