In Search of Forest Resource Values of Aboriginal Peoples: The Applicability of Non-Market Valuation Techniques

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  • The purpose of this paper is to present an interdisciplinary model and a process for considering the applicability of non-market valuation techniques to Aboriginal Peoples. These techniques are widely used in non-Aboriginal contexts as methods of providing information about preferences over natural resources. Concern about the basis for the management of natural resources is a global phenomenon. Central dimensions of this issue include: who shall make decisions about the environment, by what criteria, and what process of valuation will be used. Policy and enterprise failures in the area of natural resource management can be characterized as conflicts of culture and values between persons of European origin with those who are Aboriginal. In North America, these conflicts have centred around the rights of Aboriginal groups to land and other natural resources. Vatn and Bromley (1994, 139) have noted that social context determines whose interests count in the decision process related to choices about the environment. Ultimately this process is a discussion about actual and presumed rights. In North America and other continents, the European value systems of former colonial regimes affect decisions about natural resources which may be to the detriment of Aboriginal peoples. The resource issues associated with these decisions include land reform measures, wildlife management options and misdirected aid programs which sometimes fail to reflect the needs of indigenous cultures. Decisions which fail to include the input of local people and ignore Aboriginal value systems can lead to inappropriate and unenforceable resource use patterns, skewed income distributions and unintended loss of social welfare. As one response to these resource decision problems, researchers have been trying to develop a better understanding of Aboriginal societies. In pursuing this approach, respect for local people is shown through attention to indigenous knowledge and participatory resource appraisal techniques. One of the central premises of these efforts is the recognition that positive interactions between different cultures require the development of a mutual understanding of the cultures involved. Such an effort requires the development of an understanding of value differences between cultures. As researchers spend increasing amounts of time trying to understand Aboriginal cultures, they bring with them a variety of methods and analytical tools from their respective disciplines. Some sociological efforts focus on defining and comprehending the structure and functions of roles, values, decision making processes and institutions within these cultures. Economic efforts often focus on examining the preferences of the individuals in the group in an attempt to understand choices and resource allocation decisions. One group of tools used by resource economists is non-market valuation. Since the original attempt at valuing recreation by Hotelling (1947), methods have evolved to the point where they may play prominent roles in resource management decisions. Currently these methods are being used cross-culturally (Brisco et al, 1990; Whittington et al, 1990; Whittington, Lauria, and Mu, 1991; Whittington et al, 1992; Boadu, 1992). At issue in this paper is the extent to which these approaches are useful in obtaining information that may lead to the resolution of resource management issues which arise from interactions between cultures. In this paper we examine the applicability of non-market valuation techniques to Aboriginal societies. We note that there are also many concerns about the application of these techniques to Aboriginal societies. We not that there are also many concerns about the application of these techniques within Euro-American cultures. However, we focus on a set of issues that may arise due to differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures. Also, we primarily concentrate on theoretical issues associated with non-market valuation and not on empirical/technical issues (survey design, information provision, data collection, etc). While the latter are important elements of non-market valuation, the theoretical issues must be addressed before these techniques can e implemented. The paper is structured as follows. First, we present a multidisciplinary model of natural resource values. We then present an outline of non-market valuation theory, in particular, the theory behind the contingent valuation method. Next, we examine some systematic differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal values towards natural resources. Based on the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal natural resource values, we outline three areas in which non-market valuation efforts may fail. These are: (1) difficulties in eliciting individual valuation responses, (2) difficulties in aggregating responses over Aboriginal Peoples, and (3) difficulties in aggregating Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal responses. We conclude with a discussion of suggested directions which future research may take in order to develop valuation methods responsive to Aboriginal value systems.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International