Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

"tT 2 
As a preliminary step to interpreting these findings, it is interesting to consider a possible, 
even likely, misinterpretation. What might he the English-Canadian emic perception of Cree 
ownership? Assuming that the findings of Study 2 are valid representations of the 
English-Canadian concept of owning, it might seem perplexing to English-Canadians that Cree 
ownership has a relatively greater meaning of covetousness and of communalism. To an 
English-Canadian in a Cree community, it might seem that the Cree too easily assume 
ownership of what is not theirs. Need, want, and deserve would be seen not to define a property 
right, but theft. At the same time, however, the Cree would seem not to control their goods with 
the expected attention to keeping and protecting them. If this is considered along with the Cree 
rejection of the commercial alienation of land, it might well appear that the Cree lack a concept 
of ownership. 
Such a misinterpretation may not be just hypothetical. One of the salient aspects of 
property behavior in a Cree community is the extreme protectiveness by the Euro-Canadians of 
their residences and their institutions, as evidenced by grated windows, double-locked doors, 
fences, and barred door jambs. This is somewhat unusual considering that the Cree are noted 
for their honesty (Richardson, 1975; Michel, 1984). The Cree themselves generally do not erect 
barriers to protect their property and to exclude others from access to it. On the other hand, to 
Euro-Canadians, the Cree lack of property barriers is indeed uncomfortable. For example, in a 
Cree community, people enter homes without being let in, and public pathways pass through 
yards close to private homes. The tendency for the Cree not to emphasize exclusiveness in 
their concept of owning might appear to Euro-Canadians as communal ownership. For example, 
even while intending to present a “radical critique of European values”, Jull (1985) suggests that 
native peoples do not have a concept of ownership: 
Aboriginal customs of land and water use and communal sharing are at odds with Canada’s 
European legal system built on private and exclusive ownership. Police and court systems 
have not seemed protectors as much as alien and often oppressive forces. 
“Consumerism” and acquisitive habits have not been traditional among most aboriginal 
groups. (Jull, 1985, p. 11) 
The results of this study, however, argue for a Cree concept of ownership that is not 
radically. different from the English-Canadian concept, but that is indeed different. The 
differences are consistent with an ecological explanation. Cree culture and the Cree concept 
of owning developed in the ecological context of the sub-arctic region, which has many of the 
difficulties of the far north, but little of its big game or marine life. As a hunting-gathering

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