In my Earth Systems class we have talked about some well-known modern problems we as people are currently facing: renewable energy solutions, the ever-increasing human population, and green house gases. One problem we discussed in class that I had never heard of, is the theory of The Tragedy of the Commons.
In a nutshell, this theory states that due to our individual strive to succeed, the “commons”- land/oceans not owned by anyone, but commonly shared by all-will inevitably be depleted. For example, a sheep-herder in the common pasture lands of England starts out with 10 sheep in an area. He soon realizes that he will immediately benefit from adding one more sheep to the land- more sheep, more meat/wool, more money. This seems like a rational and intelligent decision to make, however if every man thinks this way (for the bettering of himself only) then there will eventually be too many sheep in the commons, which will inevitably deplete the resources of the commons and thus the sheep population will plunge drastically.
This theory has also been proven true in the fishing companies. The oceans are the commons in this case, and the fishermen all want the most fish, so they can make the most money quickly. However, since every fisherman has this mindset, the fish populations are being depleted at alarming rates. They are declining so quickly that the government has had to set limits on what time of the year and for how long fishermen can fish.
So what does this mean for the Indigenous people who never abused their resources, yet still are at a strong disadvantage?Should fishing laws really pertain to Indigenous people?
Treaties between the U.S. and multiple Indigenous tribes were signed preserving the fishing and hunting rights of Indigenous people on and off reservation land-however, these treaties were made in the 19th/20th centuries when fish were thought to be an inexhaustible source. So now that we’re running short on fish, the U.S. government has made regulations on Indigenous fishing rights. Some regulations allow fishing only off reservation land, some regulations only allow fishing on reservation lands, the government has even physically decreased the size of reservation land.
These set regulations have caused massive protests, especially in the northwest. And why not? Indigenous people should protest like hell- I sure would. How fair is it that the only people who didn’t abuse their resources and have lived successfully for hundreds of years before the Europeans came must give up or alter their own subsistence means, because us Americans screwed everything up? We made the tragedy of the commons a reality; it didn’t have to be this way.
Is it ethical to limit the fishing of Indigenous people? It’s interesting how ethics seems to come up so frequently when discussing the relationship between the United States and Indigenous people. Punishing everyone for things we did…sounds like America to me.