The Tempest is often understood as a parable of colonialism. In this kind of reading Prospero stands for the colonizer of the island and Caliban and Ariel as the victims of Prospero’s colonialist rule. Ownership of the island is contested by several of the characters but let’s have a close look at their various claims
Prospero the deposed duke of Milan was exiled from Milan in a boat with only his daughter Miranda (then a small child), some meagre provisions and his most precious books. He landed on the island by pure luck Prospero simply says “here in this Island we arrived”. From what one can gather, on the island Prospero found Caliban and Ariel and a number of sprites. He decided to educate but also enslave Caliban and to use the spirit Ariel as a servant. His relationship with Caliban was benign until Caliban and Miranda had some kind of misunderstanding that Prospero at least thinks was an attempted rape. Prospero never questions his claim to the island.
Caliban was living on the island when Prospero arrived there and he was born on the island. He claims that the island is his because it was his mother’s before him. However his mother was not born on the island she was brought to the island when she was exiled from Algiers for being a witch, She came to this island already pregnant with Caliban. When she arrived on the Island she found Ariel already there. She made Ariel her servant but when Ariel refused to do something he abhorred she punished him by imprisoning him in a tree where he suffered for a dozen years, until Prospero found him there and freed him only to make Ariel his servant.
Ariel never voices any claim to the Island though he does demand his liberty. Perhaps because he is a spirit, rather than a human he is able to live anywhere without ownership. As he puts it, imagining his freedom,
“Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly”
So if anyone is the native inhabitant of the Island it is Ariel, though we do not know how he came there and whether he enslaved the bat upon whose back he flies he seems to have the strongest claim. And yet he is the only one who seems to feel no need to stake that claim.
So who owns the Island?