Reserve Price: Shadow Pricing, Legal Struggles, and the Political Economy of Vancouver’s Urban Indigenous Land Leases

Authors: Patrick DeDauw*, Graduate Center, CUNY
Topics: Economic Geography, Indigenous Peoples, Canada
Keywords: settler colonialism, rent, Vancouver, racial capitalism, political economy, community land trusts
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Vancouver, a city where 99% of houses are worth more than $1,000,000, and many pay lip-service to the society’s debt to the original inhabitants of the land, economic struggles over land use and the affordable housing crisis are key axes of social conflict. This paper examines how a specific set of landlord–tenant relations has been politically mediated on inalienable reserve lands, held in trust for the Musqueam Indian Band (MIB). Since 1965, the Government of Canada has leased 75 residential lots to private tenants on MIB reserve lands on behalf of the First Nation. Struggles between non-Indigenous tenants and the MIB over market-rate rent increases to the 99-year leases culminated in a case before the Supreme Court of Canada, who fixed the “fair rent” at half that of equivalently located fee-simple property. This essay considers how different levels of the colonial state and capitalist land markets dialectically shape and enforce speculations as to the appropriate size of income streams from semi-commodified forms of landed property, emphasizing how dynamics of shadow pricing haunt even lands formally outside of land markets—not only reserves, but also community land trusts, restrictively zoned land, etc. Examining this political-economic struggle in the context of proposals for Indigenous economic development via full reserve privatization, and liberal conceptions of market-mediated reparations and reconciliation, this paper aims to concretize debates around the economics of settler colonialism and take seriously the economic context shaping the political forms of dispossession that restructure land rights into particular kinds of rent-bearing assets.

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