Rights of Place: Territory, Property, and Jurisdiction in the Americas


LAC Burkhardt


Political Science


For residence at the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania during academic year 2020-2021


States are running out of water, and the waters are rising. Natural resources and their management must be rethought. Today, water and other natural resources are controlled by states, the holders of territorial rights. Yet, states are often blind to complex environmental processes and how different cultures relate to them. Should only states have these rights? This project challenges two widely held assumptions: that territorial rights belong to states, and that these rights should be modeled on the individual right to private property. It turns instead to a neglected intellectual tradition: the derecho indiano of colonial Spanish America. In this tradition, it is not only individuals, peoples, or states, but also grounded communities—pueblos—that have territorial rights. This project examines and reinterprets the legal history of pueblos to illuminate the history of indigenous peoples’ land claims, and contemporary conflicts over natural resources.