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Ulai meets Pope Francis to talk about Indigenous Land Rights

Ulai Baya (3rd to Pope Francis’ right)

Last week Ulai was in Rome to participate in the Third Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples´ Forum at IFAD The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. Ulai is the Pacific Regional Representative, which enables him to make the case for the rights of customary landowners on the World Stage.

In a private meeting with indigenous peoples’ representatives, Pope Francis stressed the need to  reconcile development, both social and cultural, with the protection of indigenous peoples and their territories, “especially when planning economic activities that may interfere with their cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth”. 

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail,” Pope Francis said. “Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict.”

See IFAD press release  Development should consider indigenous cultures and their relationship to the earth.

See NBC news item Pope Francis Says Native People Have Rights Over Their Lands.

Vatican Pope US Pipeline
Pope Francis, standing at right, meets with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a UN agricultural meeting in Rome, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Francis has insisted that indigenous peoples must give prior consent for any economic activity on their ancestral lands — an indirect critique as the Donald Trump administration seeks to advance construction on a $3.8 billion oil pipeline over opposition from American Indians. (L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP). Ulai Baya seated 3rd from right of camerman.

Land, Indigenous People and Conflict

Spike Boydell is General Editor of the Routledge Complex Real Property Rights book series.

The first book launced in the series is Land, Indigenous People and Conflict edited by Alan Tidwell and Barry Zellen. 9781138847637

As Spike explains in his foreword for the volume:

Real Property Rights are central to the economy and provide a legal framework for how society (be it developed or customary) relates to land and buildings.  Property rights are both institutional arrangements and social relations. We need to better understand property rights to ensure sustainable societies, careful use of limited resources and sound ecological stewardship of our land and water.

Land conflict is all around us – from corporate and political corruption over land dealings in the developed world, to land grab in developing countries, to compromised indigenous property rights, to resource exploitation. At a time where global food security, water security and shelter are paramount, an understanding of property rights is key to sustainability.

Contemporary property rights theory is dynamic and this series strives to engage thinkers who are prepared to step beyond their disciplinary limitations.  ‘Property Rights’ is a broad term that is fundamentally about social relations.  Real property rights, obligations and restrictions can be found in and change across the full range of human societies, both in time and space. Property rights research has emerged from a broad range of disciplines including (but not limited to) archaeology, anthropology, ethics, sociology, psychology, law, geography, history, philosophy, economics, planning, and business studies.

Much writing on property rights has, historically, been mono-disciplinary.  A disciplinary approach has caused a plurality of understanding about property rights that extends significantly beyond the dominant legal / economic divide.  Disciplinary thinking has not minimised or helped to manage / limit land conflict.  What makes this series special is that it facilitates a transdisciplinary approach to understanding property rights and will specifically encourage heterodox thinking.

Land, Indigenous Peoples and Conflict’ is the appropriate title with which to launch the Routledge Complex Real Property Rights series.  As the editors of this volume, Alan Tidwell and Barry Zellen have brought together an eclectic collection of authors who mutually share a depth of insight into contemporary conflicts over indigenous land. 

Land, Indigenous Peoples and Conflict’ has several distinguishing features. Primarily, it is transdisciplinary in nature. Any discussion of the link between land, indigenous peoples, and conflict necessarily requires drawing on ideas, concepts and principles from such disparate disciplines as cultural anthropology, political science, sociology, economics, just to name a few. Taking a transdisciplinary approach helps the authors connect theory to observed reality, which in turn gives traction to inform potential policy outcomes.

A second distinguishing feature of ‘Land, Indigenous Peoples and Conflict’ concerns the geographic breadth of coverage of the edited volume, spanning from the Arctic to the tropics and including mainland Asia as well as the Austro-Pacific islands; both North and South America; northern Eurasia (Siberia), as well as Africa. Touching upon a geographically broad range enables readers to become more generally acquainted with the diverse property rights challenges indigenous peoples face. A third distinguishing feature of ‘Land, Indigenous Peoples and Conflict’ is its emphasis on both land rights as well as identifying the many ways in which conflicts are managed or resolved.  Uniquely, ‘Land, Indigenous Peoples and Conflict’ provides a breadth and depth to the question of indigenous land conflict not found in other texts.

For more information on this book, and others in the series, please click here.

3 new research papers on Customary Land

Three new research papers have just been added to our Research page.

Using the Plurality of Registers to Investigate Conflict over Customary Land‘ attempts to articulate the disconnected worldview between indigenous values and capitalist interests. This paper critically examines the tensions that result when common law attempts to establish a commercial rights (i.e. a property right) over customary land.

Demystifying the Valuation of Customary Land‘ breaks sown the myths and mystique that surrounds the valuation of customary land.  Whilst appreciating that the inalienable notions of land held by the customary stewards (or guardians) is very at odds with the commodity view of the West that emphasises individual ownership, we attempt to deconstruct these tensions associated with social and economic value through a property rights approach.

Towards the Valuation of Unregistered Land‘ reports on an ongoing UN-Habitat/Global Land Tools Network initiative we are involved with that strives to facilitate the valuation of unregistered land (which forms 70% of land ownership in developing countries).

We hope that you find them useful.

How to make the iTLTB better – a users guide

Never a pWorld Bank 2014 logorophet at home, today we took our review of the iTaukei Land Trust Board (iTLTB) to the world stage, presenting to a packed conference venue at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2014 in Washington DC.
Sometimes, Fiji just doesn’t realise how good they have things.

Boydell & Baya WB 2014 slideOur analysis of the iTLTB highlights that the recording of landowner groups in Fiji over the last 120 years, whilst not without some problems, has made it easier to set up a land trust administration to make surplus customary land available for economic development by using lease structures. The iTLTB has now been running (in its earlier guise as the NLTB) for almost 70 years. In this paper we have provided a comprehensive analysis of the iTLTB and made a number of recommendations as to how it may further enhance the professional services that it offers to the customary landowners that it serves.

So come on iTLTiTLTB logoB, it is time to stop being lethargic (according to PM Bainimarama) and take leadership of land in Fiji.  And to all of you aspiring to run for the elections in Fiji this year… you can’t afford to overlook the land issue. You can read our roadmap for making the iTLTB fit for purpose in the 21st Century here.


Ulai Baya talks option pricing with the Fiji Indigenous Business Council

Ulai Baya shares the ideaSlide01 of using option pricing to negotiate compensation for mining activities on customary land to an interested crowd at the  the Fiji Indigenous Business Council conference at the Holiday Inn, Suva, on 19 March 2013.  Really, he asked, how can governments not afford to look seriously at option pricing to negotiate a better deal for customary landowners? How indeed!



We agree with much of Joel Simo’s useful news article published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week (available here). However, whilst we know and have respect for Joel Simo, and accept that leases have been inappropriately drafted in Vanuatu, we remain of the view that appropriately drafted leases are part of the solution as well (see our guidance on leaseholds).  This view is not shared by the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) – but hope that they will come to realise that leases are the only way that surplus customary land can be accessed and made economically productive by third parties. What is important is ensuring that the leases are at commercial rents (as opposed to unimproved capital value), regularly reviewed, have an appropriate duration (for the customary landowners), and any improvements should be returned with the land to the customary landowners at lease expiry (or renewal) in good and tenantable repair.  The problem, as we see it, is that historically in the Pacific leases have been drafted to benefit external investors and colonial interests rather than the customary landowners.

It is time to reverse this trend.

Ulai Baya represents CLS at ACP Secretariat in Brussels


Ulai Baya represented Customary Land Solutions at the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Secretariat Validation Meeting on Private Sector Support in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday 11th November.  The ACP Business Climate Programme Management Unit, BizClim, fully sponsored Ulai’s participation at this key international event.


John Sheehan speaking on sea level rise in Utrecht

(Left to right) Professor Thomas Hartmann, Utrecht University; Dr. Ed Dammers, Senior Researcher, Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL -Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency); and John Sheehan (CLS) at the PBL offices in The Hague [October 2013]
(Left to right) Professor Thomas Hartmann, Utrecht University; Dr. Ed Dammers, Senior Researcher, Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL -Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency); and John Sheehan (CLS) at the PBL offices in The Hague [October 2013]
John Sheehan, is currently a Visiting Professor at the Universiteit Utrecht Urban and Regional Research Centre.  Whilst there, John is speaking on Transferable Development Rights to Accommodate Sea Level Rise, and has also been invited to meet with the Dutch Governments Sea Level Rise Agency in the Hague to discuss his current research on TDRs.

Imagine, if you will, what might change in terms of our identity as citizens if Australia were to become a Republic – something that many see as inevitable, albeit a situation which is yet to become a reality. I’m not talking here about the tokenism of a new flag or a contemporary national anthem, or even in the transfer of proxy leadership from a Governor General as representative of the English Crown to a President as representative of the Federation of States and Territories. Rather, my interest lies in what happens to the superior interest in land and the associated subsidiary property rights when (rather than if) Australia becomes a Republic, and what the ramifications are for notions of identity… if we replace the Crown and the Crown’s superior interest in the land with something, and if that something is an acknowledgement of the guardianship of the land through Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander stewardship, would this, could this, or should this affect the underlying way that we as 21st century citizens relate to real property.

In his recently published chapter – A 21st Century Citizen in a brave new Republic – Spike Boydell explores how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander native title could be prioritised over freehold land if, or when, Australia becomes a Republic.