Geolocation has increased the number of claims by extractive industries through remote sensing, and especially over indigenous lands. Yet the tools of crowd-sourced mapping and have also provided counter-maps of the industries that have increased claims of access to the resources buried in lands to which indigenous groups have ancestral claims, offering an ethical redress of the lost of lands indigenous have roundly suffered from the uninvited Anglo settlers of North America–and the lack of any search for consent from longtime inhabitants in ongoing questions of land use decisions that are of increasing importance in an era of shifting ecological niches and ecosystems by pollution, independent from global warming.
What might it be like to map from the other side, as it were, less in terms of land claims of property than inviting a greater negotiation of the land use with the longstanding use of land that indigenous communities have often long used? Maps that might preserve the memory of past use in which indigenous communities not only live, but have long dwelled, might be able to better see those lands as part and parcel of a sense of self, long obliterated or erased from earlier maps, whose content we would do well to interrogate and examine in terms of the erasure of earlier land claims. As Thanksgiving becomes a time to seek deeper truths than are evident in the map of acknowledged tribal lands, or the violence of the longstanding aims of eliminating the presence of indigenous from the map. For many indigenous in North America, Thanksgiving is better known in indigenous communities as a National Day of Mourning, the displacement of indigenous land claims from the current maps of nations has offered little space to negotiate land rights.
Yet the opportunity to map a persuasive representation of past land use has provided a new cartography akin to a pharmakon, remedying the erasure of indigenous presence in crowd-sourced remapping platforms, whose overlapping boundaries of tribal space may derive part of its compelling power and increased impetus from the erosion of “boundaries” in the mapping of the nation state,–if not of the integrity of the nation state as a semantic unit of clear bounds. Might the platform that promotes a sense of the blurred nature of indigenous space on TribalLand.ca be more than a purely virtual representation of an affective relation to the lost title to lands, but eventually be effective in giving rise to something new in the shifting structure of the nation state, where the place and space of indigenous inhabitation deserves increased prominence than it has long had? As the nation wrestles with its troubled pasts, and the ethics as well as objectivity of mapping space, as well as the danger of environmental devastation on several fronts, the resource of NativeLands opens new questions of how we understand our relation to the land, and the place of engaging indigenous inhabitants in collective decisions of land use, from the leasing of mineral rights to the potential devastation of oil pipelines and energy transport, or underground fracking and petroleum prospecting. It might be a way of using the very tools of geodetic mapping that extractive energy has profited so much to create a new forum for interrogating land use, and empowering indigenous communities as stake-holders to questions of property from which they were long excluded.
The attempts to crowd source a layer of the boundaries of indigenous land claims on TribalLands.com, noteworthy as suggesting a new ethics of mapping, both with a clear historical online apparatus that serves as a dynamic legend, and the refreshing colors of a distinct cartographic palette of light lavender, green, violent, and yellow that broadens the divides of territorial claims sharply-edged cartography of the past. The oddly open space in these maps are not legally binding–or rooted in law–but offer a poignant and indeed healing cartographic pharmakon of ghost-like claims we are currently learning to negotiate with the lines of jurisdiction or sovereignty inherited from the past. While the web map is finally turned to only in §8-14 of this post–perhaps a section that deserves to be its own post!–the time-laden nature of obscuring native or indigenous claims are examined as a cognitive problem and historical project in earlier sections, turning to the complex place of indigenous in California’s formation as a state, before the Native Land maps are examined as a productive undoing of the historical violence worked by the marginalization of native land claims–effectively a cartographic distortion and omission that has deep logic and cunning roots.
For mapping, and all mapping, fascinates as an ethical project of knowing, as much as for its accuracy and persuasive form. If all mapping is time-bound, this remapping of land claims is not based on erasure of settler sovereignty, but an opportunity for deeper dialogue with the past–and with the relation of maps to remembering–that might offer a way to produce a responsible acknowledgement of the difficulties of the notion of sovereignty, and indeed. a new way of negotiating the fraught history of the past maps predicated on a logic of displacing native or indigenous inhabitants, and eradicating indigenous land claims.
1. The recent emergence of web-based tools and maps attempt to counter increased dangers of encroaching upon ancestral claims, by offering tools that might effectively empower indigenous claims if not to legally binding records of sovereign space, of the inhabitation of lands that property maps often elide. The many treaties of land–and history of land cessions–that have reduced North American indigenous land claims have found a powerful response to try to address, if not to meet the devastating precision with which remote sensing and geolocation tools have provided indices for extracting minerals, mining, and drilling for petroleum, if not in a legally recognized form, by providing powerful set of tools for asserting and envisioning the deep historical value of lands increasingly at risk of irreversible ecological and environmental damage.
For the very cartographic tools that have helped international petrochemical corporations to target lands valued for mineral production have helped to shaped a discourse on the land’s value that undercut local claims to sovereignty, specters of extractive industries’ deep desire to possess the targeted energy reserves. While we see these maps as pinpointing mineral claims with precision that might allow extraction of underground reserves, it would be better to learn to regard the map of claims as akin to an ecological haunting of North America, disrupting not only settled modern treaties with indigenous peoples in Canada, but disrupting the longstanding claims of historical inhabitation of lands by those who long conserved them, a conflict of two geographies that, globally, is steaming to a head in the twentieth century, as global claims risk obscuring the local claims of the custody and preservation of historic claims: an entanglement of overturned treaties, renegotiated sites of mining and mineral extraction, and actively negotiated land claims, the map is not a record of spatial knowledge, but also something of a historically determined palimpsest, if urgency of locating energy reserves for collective good risk flattening the rich historical record in the search for petrodollars.
The abrogation of treaties is nothing new to the history of indigenous claims from the nineteenth century to ancestal lands, but the heightening of debates in recent years accompanies the expanded scale of destruction of mining and the logic of geolocation of mineral deposits from remote sensing, leading to a growing number of claims removed from treaties that were intended to preserve a site–see the range of claims eagerly made on land in Bears Ears!–in a mad scramble to unlock mineral resources buried under the land.
If land has been allocated or reallocated for energy extraction in recent years, the definition of mineral reserves echo the “doctrine of discovery” that defined the boundaries and ownership of land long occupied by naive or indigenous inhabitants has posed questions of the existence of proofs to prior claims–the basis for staking indigenous claims. The very existence of large numbers of oil and mineral deposits across the Canadian north coincide most problematically with marginalizing indigenous knowledge claims, raising questions, as Global Forest Watch has helped us visualize, of the conflict between resolved treatises and expanding land claims being negotiated to access mineral deposits, most of which lie in areas covered by abrogated historical treaties. While the language and logic of extraction depends on the localization of mineral deposits on isolated points, boundaries, and edges, the blurring of maps of ancestral lands first in Canada, and now globally, posses a shift in perspective on the bounding of appropriated space that upsets the logic abstracting property claims from a historical context.
Indeed, the tabulation and mapping of Reserves, First Nation Settlement Lands, Inuit Owned Lands, Tlicho Lands, Inuvialuit Lands, Gwich’in Lands, and Sahtu Lands offers a dynamic mapping of “aboriginal lands” absorbed into the commonwealth at an earlier era–local land claims challenged and intact landscapes challenged by the globalization conundrum of the corporate and often national elevation of “global” over local needs.
The increased demand to reconcile nationally recognized indigenous land claims and ancestral lands poses something of an epistemic and a political challenge for the twenty-first century, unable to be recognized by purely cartographic terms, but which cartographic contrast promoted by indigenous-led claims for local governance and land-use have put into relief as an ongoing engagement. The parallel existence of these different geographies suggest a coming crisis in the need to resolve limited recognition of federally recognized claims with the existence of an increasingly visible collective call for recognizing ancestral lands, now crowd sourced on the vibrant webmaps of Tribal Lands, maps that suggest the far greater haunting of nations by the seizure of indigenous lands on which they were founded.
If the allegedly limited scope of lands federally recognized in Canada–while far more expansive than in the United States, a mere .2% of the territory of the expansive nation to the north–
–the spectral nature of indigenous nations that has been mapped on NativeLands.ca demands to be seen as haunting the nation on the day of American Thanksgiving, and provides an entree of sources to turning to some serious introspection on the territorial configuration of the
Indeed, as we move to living in a globalized economy that places a premium on logics of extraction, recorded and determined by remote sensing form satellite space, maps of mineral resources threatens to alienate traditional knowledge claims across a global setting.
The pressing crisis of mapping indigenous lands seeks to balance the claims mad in maps privileging “discovery” of and extraction in the petroleum industry’s identification of oil deposits over and above local land claims that has threatened the erosion of ecosystems in huge swaths of formerly forested lands that eerily parallel the reduction of native land claims in Canada to bu .2% of the nation, in ways that force us to come to terms with the role of maps in vacating native claims to land ownership and land-use.
The story did not begin in any way with the global demand for energy extraction that is all too often phrased in gilded terms as “energy independence,” even if this “independence” is primarily for the wealthy extractive industries. Maps help sell plans for energy extraction to the public in suitably patriotic terns as a “freedom” from global energy markets, confirming the recognition of the rich “basins” of sediment at home and offshore, as if it awaited the bravery of a scratch-‘n’-sniff scraping of their color-coded surfaces might easily reveal its oily petroleum odors that would cascade to a populist demand for cheaper prices at the pump.
Although the map below shows the extent to which mineral claims lie in the boundaries of Canada’s boreal forest, the conflicting claims of property rights that appeared long settled in historical or modern treaties seem punctured by the speckling of claims that suggest an intense competition for legal recognition of mineral claims. It might understood as imposing a distinct logics to understand space, one covered by ceded land, and one covered by a sharp-edged rationality of geolocation, rooted in a geography of extraction that takes global markets as its common denominator. As we balance the collision of such conflicting cartographic rationalities, the claims of ownership of ancestral indigenous lands may yet gain new purchase and new currency, as the contestation to access to newly valued lands that have emerged as properties–and cast as properties of the “common good”–has become increasingly intense.
The permutations of the “common good” as a logic for land seizure is not unfamiliar, as much as it has been intensified by the renegotiation of past treaties with indigenous or aboriginal communities, whose very name seems to acknowledge their remove from the global market with more than a conspiratorial wink: it recalls the expropriation of longstanding land claims across the western United States of lands under the guise of the benefit of the “public good” from the Gold Rush land leases to the “wilderness” area of National Parks, both in Canada and the United States, as public lands; one thinks not only of Yosemite but Yellowstone, as “public” lands that not only rested on expropriation, but as areas areas where contested land claims were erased or subsumed in a “public good” first and foremost in “parks” where the ostensible “sharing” of landscapes identified as wildlife were able to essentially void claims to sovereign status by being affirmed as “wilderness” areas indigenous and settlers might equitably share.
Before such a map of the recent land claims that seem to grasp smattered mineral deposits for extractive possibilities, it seems counterintuitive that the modern tools of geolocation have provided a new basis to affirm indigenous claims to the land–as if the two maps are departing from one another, red splotches revalued and excised from established treaties.
But if the red dots denoting mineral claims seem located with a terrible certainty in historical and modern settled treatises, similar tools of mapping have opened indigenous perspective on land claims as a form of private property and ancestral lands that seem as if they, too, descend from the Enlightenment defense of how states secure private property rights John Locke most clearly articulated as the right taking into possession of the lands of indigenous who had failed to cultivate or farm lands, or, in modern terms, extract their resources..
It is in the context of the proliferation of mineral claims that the creation of new online maps of ancestral lands have been developed, as a counter-mapping of land claims that have long been insufficiently preserved in treaties or recognized. They seek to pose questions of the long unresolved questions of possessions, raising deep ethical questions of the limits of ownership, and artfully articulate the need to formulate forms of acknowledgment of the expropriation of indigenous rights. The collective nature of the crowd-sourced response to the erosion fixed lines of property long posed to indigenous lands, forested or unploughed, offers a provocative cartographic riposte to the toxic multiplication of claims of mineral resources that upset modern treaties, swept aside with historical treaties that seem to fall as if at the feet of the Angel of History, blown backwards by time, as if so many ruins of the past.
As we try to calculate the depth of historical obligations of nations to native peoples and indigenous land claims, the crisis of extraction may provide more than healthy starting point. While the probability of gas reserves may be more difficult to pinpoint above the Arctic Circle, as exploratory studies are less rarely authorized, and since their discovery in 2008 were newly classified as “potentially recoverable”–although as arctic ice sheets melt, that story is potentially beginning to change: but if the chromatic variation in geolocated gas reserves north of the Arctic Circle seem suitably drained of color, the apparent absence of any land claims on the map seems almost strategic. Is the absence of any indication of ancestral lands in the circumpolar stereographic projection not privileging advantageous opportunities for oil extraction, rather than recognizing longstanding land rights, or sites of residence?
Yet the naming of the land, or its recoloration by the likelihood of extracting mineral profit, irrespective of the environment, is a dramatic remapping of value in the land, in ways not seen by its inhabitants, and a triangulation of human relations to the land, and the demand for oil, as much as a reorientation of objective record of geographic space. Maps presented something like vestiges of the indigenous past of places past–“Ye say that they all have pass’d away/That noble race and brave;/That their light canoes have vanish’d,/From off the crested wave/ . . .But their name is on your water,/Ye may not wash it out,” wrote Lydia Sigourney in Indian Names; Whitman described “the strange charm of aboriginal names” that “all fit” the places, rivers, coasts and islands that they describe as adequately as onomatopoeia–“Mississippi!-the word winds with chutes–it rolls a stream three thousand miles long,” yet most names of “Indian” origin, if avoided by early settlers, to be absorbed y American tongues as they grew emptied of indigenous title. Yet the removal or blanching of indigenous geographies suggests a new relation to extracted spaces, under the ground, unanimated and sensed, remotely, for a commodity value cast as objective in its blueness, as if to convert space to a calculus of market values that exists less objectively than as a grounds for its extraction and universal needs of energy consumption, as if the probability of access to products provides the universal index of meaning indicated by shades of blue.
This relation to space, if akin to John Locke’s classic description of the value of cultivated and enclosed land that Anglo settlers are able to create in “America”, gaining value by cultivation that they would otherwise lack among indigenous, is a classic move of appropriation by means of revaluation, stated as so self-evident that it seems not an act of revaluation, but recognition of opening the “fruited soil” or “petroleum reserves” to global markets–whether markets of a global Atlantic trade for sugar, cotton, and that reveal their intrinsic value in ways not apparent to their previous occupants, by a re-designation that will elevate the land’s value of lands as the demand and need for products washes over them, to benefit “all” mankind.
A hauntingly similar logic informed how Henry David Thoreau, in 1861, described the beneficial nature of displacement as a historical logic that was almost inherent in the land. For Thoreau transitioned from how “the civilized nations–Greece, Rome, England–have been sustained by the primitive forests, which anciently rooted where they stand” reasoning that it was evident that such nations “survive as long as the soil is not exhausted,” and as nations are “compelled to make manure of the bones of its fathers,” prevailing wisdom agrees “It is said to be the task of the American ‘to work the virgin soil,’ and that ‘agriculture here already assumes proportions unknown everywhere else” in its exorbitant wealth. The American story is a dialectic process of agricultural transformation of landscape by which “the farmer displaces the Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some respects more natural” as fields were transformed by plough, hoe, and spade.
This historical dialectic of displacement will bring us to the Harvest feast. FOX commentator Laura Trump, latest defender of the Trump political brand, has grown into the part by calling out the designs of those to “take away our traditions” seeking to “chip away” at America by those who “don’t want us to any shared traditions like Thanksgiving” who seek to disrupt the traditional holiday by allowing the price of the festive meal to rise by inflation. The turkey is perhaps the atavistic bird of the wild–if modern turkeys are farmed–but the Trump in-law begged viewers to grasp the extent of the failure of government in the failure to protect turkey prices from rising a few dollars as an existential threat of “turning this country inside-out;” higher prices of turkey, warned the former President’s daughter in-law, as a way of “fundamentally transforming this country, . . . to make sure you have no commonality whatsoever,” or “common ground.” Indeed, “I guess we’re lucky they’re letting us have Thanksgiving this year,” she put herself in the disadvantaged minority, alerting viewers that even if the “shared traditions” being threatened at the register “might seem a little funny and ridiculous,” pointing to how inflation might eclipse Thanksgiving festivities and leave many resigned to skip tables laden with bounty in the past given the rising costs of the bird as a sinister plot to disrupt the Harvest Feast–“‘Oh, don’t have a turkey, then people won’t come over’”–as if intending to rob the Thanksgiving table of the entitled harvest feast–even if the “wild” turkey consumed on Thanksgiving is hardly the most popular of the carb-indulgent foods most anticipated in America. Pace Laura Trump, if on most Thanksgiving tables turkey may be a dramatic center, performatively carved, we anticipate preferred side dishes on the table like mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac & cheese, cream corn, deviled eggs and biscuits.
The turkey remains an atavistic reminder of the semi-wild nature the meal once had, as the slaughter of the massive birds offer a metonym for the cultivations of fields for holiday bounty beside squash, root vegetables, or the cranberries once harvested from New England bogs. The filling of plates is a reminder of the taking possession of the land by transporting the wild turkey to the crowded dining room celebrated as a harvest offering had become recast in Trumpland as evidence of dispossession of settler privilege.
The meal that enacted a domestication of the land had peacefully appropriated New World foods for the public good in a settler ritual, recalling the role of the harvest and planting of crops central to John Locke’s discussion of settler’s rights to property claims in the New World. If Thanksgiving is an offering up the fruits of the land, the pleasure in the planted harvest is a confirmation of sorts of the voiding of indigenous title and land claims. To discuss the scale of such disenfranchisement with John Locke’s notion of a civil contract may seem pedantry–if not heavy-handed pedantry–Locke had elevated the role of property in several stages of the Two Treatises as a beneficial introduction to the indigenous people of the Americas who had no concept.
In defending land speculation in land of the swampy Carolinas for his patron the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke may well have studied the newly mapped lands in the New World, finding clear and considerable benefits of converting unused lands that had not been farmed for Atlantic commerce, growing a “public good” and allowing readers to find remove public benefit from the indigenous land claims. For Locke quite clearly saw displacement of indigenous by settlers as inherent in the definition of property; if he struggled to justify displacement of indigenous inhabitants, Locke succeeded in explaining how the introduction of property claims effectively affirmed the public good. The displacement of indigenous provided a logic of the expansion of the nation state even to infertile lands, by the late nineteenth century. and odd words to privilege to describe the theft of native lands, the defender of land speculation in the swampy Carolinas, newly mapped in the New World.
The national parks movement itself effectively functioned to subsume native claims in the prioritizing of public claims of access to lands on the edges of inhabited space, fit for the “wild” or savage lifestyle of the indigenous and edifying visitation of lands by those with need for relief from the pressures of urban space. The traces of indigenous people’s historical residency were obliterated and vacated, as the longstanding presence of former sacred spaces, sites of hunting, fishing, or community were blended into the new “wilderness” areas protected by the state, rather than regarded as sites of residence, filled by longstanding traditions of a relations of custodianship of the land. The twentieth century creation of “wildlife” spaces in national parks famously vacated spaces of sovereignty and ignored indigenous land claims, in the guise of setting them apart from development or modernity, as spaces where the long excluded or marginalized experience of the indigenous might co-exist in the largest parks, as Yellowstone, from the 1878 Bannock War, the result of a string of disrespected treaties, through the Sheepeater War in 1890 ended indigenous presence in Yellowstone; former battlegrounds with Shoshone, Crow, Blackfeet Umitilla and Bannocks was nationalized in the first “national park,” converting lands fought over in military conflicts with the Nez Perce, Bannock, and from homelands into “public lands.”
Bannock with Chief Tendoy in Ancestral Lands Converted to Yellowstone National Park/Wikimedia
The occupation of lands remembered by song, dance, and other narrative forms did not stake clear edges of territorial boundaries, but if their traditions were at times placed outside of history in ways we are only slowly coming to recognize, ways of occupying forests offered little common ground with settler demands for many years. Is it any surprise that the drilling for petroleum in Iqaluit, in the province of Nunavut, since this early October has contaminated tanks of treated drinking water supplies with diesel fuel to render it unsafe for consumption either boiled or filtered; Canada’s government felt it was safe for bathing or washing dishes, but as temperatures fell, leaving 8,000 the residents left without potable water haunted by diesel fuel smells permeating their tap water, as health advisories urged pregnant and elderly to avoid washing–and the only accessible river water of the Grinnell River starts to freeze.
The conversion of public lands in the American West paralleled the aesthetization of national parks, famously aestheticized by Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins as open wilderness, was concealed as a monumental loss of land as it was cast as wilderness, rather than lands from which settlers pushed historical inhabitants. Can these land claims be excavated and remembered, let alone recognized and preserved, by contemporary cartographic tools? These issues are not only academic: if National Park System director Jonathan Jarvis was dedicated to rebuild relations to Indigenous who used lands in the national park system, from allowing recognized nations to gather plants or visit sites within the park grounds, from the Navajo whose ancestral lands were included in the Canyon de Chelly national monument to the Umatilla who have advocated recognition of “tribal perspective” of “taking care of the land, so the land can take care of you,”the place of tribal nations within the national parks will be rejudicated in important ways during the Biden administration for the first time since Jarvis let his post in 2017, and it has remained vacant. The inheritance of these lands are complicated, however, coming one hundred and fifty years after National Parks were systematically built on ancestral lands dispossessed from Indigenous communities.
2. It is not by chance that Locke found, in the First Treatise on Government, a foundational document for the nation, to find the clearest illustration of the value of the role of labor in extracting “products of the earth useful to the life of man” in how “several nations of the Americans . . . are rich in land and poor in all the comforts of life,” furnished by Nature “as liberally as any other people with the materials of plenty–i.e., a fruitful soil, apt to produce in abundance what might serve for food, raiment, and delight, yet, for want of improving it by labour,” without “a hundredth part of the conveniences we enjoy,” so that their king himself is “clad worse than a day laborer in England.” The relentless economic logic of extraction and global markets was present when Locke explained to readers that the “benefit mankind” received from the cultivation of whose land “natural, intrinsic value . . [is] possibly not worth a penny” not only will always be greater, Locke argued, but that if “the profit an Indian received from it were to be valued and sold here, at least I may truly say, [is worth] not one thousandth” (I: 43).
Claims for the absent of indigenous apprehension of the commercial value and of property runs deep: Emerson, no less, lamented in April, 1862, that indigenous “have not learned the white man’s work” by he late nineteenth century, this defender of liberty lamented, “the Indians have not learned the white man’s work” that is a sign of compelling and redeeming virtue, but must arise in the tribe itself; instead, “the Indian [becomes] gloomy and distressed, when urged to depart from his habits and traditions,” argued this abolitionist, “overpowered by the gaze of the white, and his eye sinks,” without a leader with “the sympathy, language, and gods of those he would inform,” able to impart the true contentment of a stable residence–not property but real estate, “the effect of a framed or stone house is immense on the tranquillity, power, and refinement of the builder,” foreign to the “nomad [who] will die with no more estate than the wolf or the horse leaves,” so foreign is a sense of property to them.
John Locke evaded the paradox in claiming lands in the Americas, by casting the act of taking possession as rooted in the master-paradigm of the institution of private property. For no “clearer demonstration” existed of how labor added value to acres than an acre “planted with tobacco or sugar, sown with wheat or barley, and an acre of the same land lying in common without any husbandry upon it.” Locke wrote proponent of the plantation system in the Carolinas in need of defense for the project of colonization, the Earl of Shaftesbury, as his patron was Secretary in the Royal Council on Trade and Plantations in the Carolinas, advocated expanding plantation system in the Carolinas, arguing in 1673-5 that peopling “New World” by settling overseas possessions in plantations would benefit Atlantic trade. Locke planned the constitutions of the Carolinas, he consulted maps in Shaftesbury’s library that show no evidence of indigenous habitation or cultivation–among them, the Blaue atlases of America’s coast from the mid seventeenth century. Not only the study of maps compel us to examine Locke in a perspective of Atlantic history, viewing the land grants that Charles II, returned to the throne, south of Virginia to Spanish Florida–between thirty one to thirty six degrees north latitude, from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, then named in honor of Charles I, “Carolana” where man/y of the royalists living in the Barbados, rich off the cultivation of sugar plants imported to the island in the 1640s, sought to remake themselves as planters on its arable land, and indeed petitioned in the 1660s the monarch secure a thousand acres they might purchase for cultivation and the transatlantic trading of goods from unfarmed lands.
When the Earl of Shaftesbury opened his library to Locke as he desired to advocate expanding the plantation system to grow England’s trade through settlement and large-scale programs of cultivation. The logic of Locke’s argument on the origins of property of course supported settling, tilling, and cultivating the land by a new generation of English planters as a project of increasing the value of the land. And although this post on indigenous lands may seem to defer to the enemy, the very claims that corporations–and the governments who have allied agendas of energy extraction with the public good–not only reiterate the Doctrine of Discovery, now based on the discovery of oil and gas deposits that remote sensing has allowed, but from how Locke affirmed the greater benefit that the public good derived from cultivation by taking title of land ownership in the areas indigenous once dwelled, tilling and cultivating the lands where indigenous had quite differently mapped–but with no acknowledgement of those maps, drawn not on sharp lines of enclosure, but that he defined as Secretary of the Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations and private secretary of the Lords Proprietors, by an absence of industry, ownership, or property when he drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), some twenty years before writing the Two Treatises (1689), that granted settlers the status of “absolute Lords and proprietors” of the region as he sought to attract planters to cultivate productive plantations in the swampy Carolinas, adopting a distinctly boosterish attitude to the future patent holders, notoriously boasting that “every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”
Locke promised such a scale of dominion years before the massive expansion of moving human cargo by the Royal African Company from Africa to the New World led him to condemn enslavement outright. But in his speculation of the emergence of man from the state of nature, the Americas and Carolinas continued to provide a powerful model for the production of value in political society. Locke argued this benefit began not only from husbandry, but the introduction of property in a political compact, an introduction that would allow value to be extracted from the land. Locke turned to America as a figure of speech to designate the “state of nature” out of which civil government emerged that was most on everyone’s minds as a sight of the absence of money or fungible goods: “In the beginning, all the world was America,” he explained to readers, and moreso than it is now; for no such thing as money was anywhere known.” We smile at the conceit of the Americas occupied in readers’ geographic imaginary as a place foreign to private property, or where only political authority might introduce the security of property to inhabitants living in a State of Nature, removed in Locke’s eyes form civil society. But Locke’s affirmation that the security of property was only safe in a civil society, secure from “continual dangers” faced in the state of nature, in Two Treatises of Civil Government (II, 9:123-24), where claims to property would be always wanting protection, justified patenting land claims in California from 1851.
3. We once smiled at how Locke regarded America as an archetype of the accelerated civilizing process property might perform for Locke, as if indigenous were incidental to his argument. But his rationalization for seizing property was the clearest basis for the “doctrine of discovery” that is so often cited as fons et origo for the preservation of title to land claims of California settlers, itself able to boost racist claims. It offered a noble justification to preserve title without the consent of those indigenous who lived on the land by 1851, which cast indigenous inhabitants as so many “dependent nations” not yet able to claim rights of property on their own and not yet in a political society–affirming over two hundred existing “land grants” that has been argued to have propelled the development of California to what has recently become the largest economy in the world–whose acknowledgment of private land claims follow the outline of Spanish land grants, to be sure, but suggested the rapidity by which the state patented private claims to tile not only around San Fransisco and Los Angeles that from 1861 had rapidly devolved land ownership, but also the distinct geography of smaller agrarian plots to the north and larger land claims to the south that were revealed by private claims patented 1876-80 and after 1880.
The expansion of ranchos in California demand to be told as a story of accelerated dispossession. Even if Locke had to consider if conquest “convey’d a right of Possession” including “Right and Title to their Possessions,” he effectively vacated claims of indigenous he placed in the State of Nature, and might affirm the erasure of indigenous claims on the maps he consulted in London: “there being more Land, than the inhabitants possess, and make us of, any one has liberty to make use of the waste,” he proclaimed with apparent delight at resolving an apparent contradiction in II:16 of the Treatises on Civil Government, offering what Barbara Arneil has aptly termed an “economic defense” of colonialism which later colonialists cited in arguing that indigenous land claims would cede before evidence of settlers’ cultivation of lands–the enclosure and active cultivation of lands were tied to their settlement and fully possession by the state, in a huge transfer of property that remade the topography of the state to the benefit of Anglo settlers by disadvantaging indigenous pushed inland and to higher and drier ground.
The expansion of ranchos across most of California’s most fertile lands created clipped boundaries of property lines in the patents for ranchos that demands to be viewed from the topography of the raised Sierras where most native populations were driven–a “high country” later naturalized in film–far from ancestral lands, but provided the historical backdrop for future attempts to remap indigenous presence in the state, and indeed to excavate the lost geography of indigenous inhabitation land grants erased.
And although indigenous systems of government and property may be in fact beneficial alternatives, they are absent from maps of the open land of the Carolinas that seems to await cultivation in the open spaces mapped in Blaue atlases as inviting canvasses without any stable or fixed property lines.
It is difficult to call Locke a disinterested observer, after all: he was an investor in slave trade, and a proponent of the expansion of plantations in the Carolinas as he affirmed the right of property in civil society in Two Treatises on Government. Locke argued that the origin of property lay in the enclosure and taking possession of common lands for private gain as a process of natural evolution of land claims, in which “As Much Land as a Man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates, and can Use the Product of, so much is his Property“–the very property rights that were the natural law by which English planters would bring the unsettled Carolinas.
The expansion of colonization to the Carolinas offered an illustration of “submitting to the Government of a Commonwealth, under whose Jurisdiction they would be subject” as an archetypal civilizing act of the common good. Locke claimed this was not to occur by means of injuring or disadvantaging “another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions,” but the argument helped indigenous peoples were seen by Planters as not having taken advantage of the land that was “unsettled” or not cleared was not taking possessions away from those who had continued to live in a state of nature–even if doing so had no moral counsel. Only by consent to enter into a government is to consent to lose the ability “right to regulate the right of property.”
John Locke’s advocacy of the plantation system that the Earl of Shaftesbury advocated was able to accommodate enslavement, as much as Locke assumes the owner of property to practice Christian charity, but offered a logic of possession on a scale that Locke was unable to foresee–even if he saw America as a vast and unsettled expanse free from the cultivation in which English planters might offer to apply. The duly embarrassed acknowledgment and gradual recognition of how Locke’s philosophy of liberal society in fact actively accommodate enslavement in a foundational theory of liberal rights stands, retrospectively, as a sort of reckoning of the late 1980s, stemming from investigation into his involvement in the Carolinas. Despite a Fleur-de-Lis on the region, French had plainly failed to cultivate the land as property, and one might “plough, sow, and reap” to take possession of uncultivated regions that remained in the state of nature: it was more than evident by the 1660s “the French . . . have made no considerable progress in planting” to which the English would be particularly suited.