Institutional Drift, Property Rights, and Economic Development: Evidence from Historical Treaties
For nearly three centuries, Indigenous peoples within the borders of present-day Canada engaged in treaty-making with the British Crown and other European powers. These treaties regularly formed the colonial legal basis for access to Indigenous lands. However, treaties were not negotiated everywhere, including in regions subsequently settled by Europeans. Consequentially, there is substantial regional variation in the legal status of occupied lands, jurisdiction over natural resources, and state commitments to Indigenous nations. We study how these legal institutions have shaped the path of economic development in Indigenous communities. Using restricted-access census data, we show that historical treaties substantially lower income in Indigenous communities today. We argue that this results from the constitutional and legal recognition of Aboriginal rights and title, which have dramatically increased bargaining power and, consequently, income growth in non-treaty Indigenous communities.
Portions of this research were supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Insight Development Grant #430-2021-0653). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.