Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Cultural Appropriation

From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Indigenous advocates from around the world are calling on a UN committee to make appropriating Indigenous cultures illegal — and to do it quickly.

Delegates from 189 countries, including Canada, are in Geneva this week as part of a specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency.

Here’s more:

Speaking to the committee Monday, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said the UN’s negotiated document should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”

Anaya said the document should also look at products that are falsely advertised as Indigenous made or endorsed by Indigenous groups.

Canadians often aggravate peaceful and reasonable people all over the world. Because of that, it is no surprise to find Canada among the worst offenders when it comes to abuse of the indigenous population:

There are Indigenous groups from around the world taking part in this round of negotiations, including groups from New Zealand, Kenya, Mexico, Colombia and the United States.
There is no Indigenous representation in the Canadian delegation.

Officials with Global Affairs Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Canadian Heritage are taking part in this round of negotiations, but the lack of Canadian Indigenous representatives is drawing criticism from the Assembly of First Nations.

In any scenario in which property rights are being assigned, there are always eager claimants. Fortunately, when it comes to the Canadian First Nations, one of the tribal elders and knowledge keepers can tell us precisely who are the authorities who should oversee the creation of guidelines and a process for utilizing Indigenous knowledge in any activities:

“The elders and knowledge keepers are the authorities who should oversee the creation of guidelines and a process for utilizing Indigenous knowledge in any activities,” Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde told CBC in a written statement.

But once again there is the issue of the exploitative nature of the Canadians:

There was no word on whether the federal government plans to consult with the AFN after this round of negotiations wraps up on Friday.

Now, I am not an attorney, but I cannot understand how this could work separately from the copyright and patent process. And to my knowledge, copyrights and patents don’t touch on culture. Nor to my knowledge do they get assigned to large groups of people and administered by a council of elders.

Culture, from what I can tell, is a tough thing to assign. For example, the Navajo (mentioned in the CBC article) are well known for their blankets, suggesting that production of anything resembling such blankets and their design should involve royalties paid to the Navajo. And for a new design, copyright laws work fine. But my reading of the UN’s intent is that older designs (say those that have been in use for a long time) or even the very concept of a “Navajo design” rate protection and payment to the Navajo tribe.

However, there is some evidence that the creation of those blankets is a recent phenomenon. It may be that a Spanish trader came up with the whole idea. It hasn’t, so far, been in anyone’s interest to dig very deeply into the issue. But, if it turned out that the concept of Navajo blankets is, in fact, the brainchild of some unwashed and forgotten Spaniard of a few centuries back, what then? Would the Navajo owe the Spanish three hundred years worth of royalties? And which Spanish people are owed? No doubt among the various claimants to the Spanish empire, a council of elders could be assembled. And of course, the council of elders would decide that the council of elders should decide.

If the UN goes the route it’s headed, someone will have to tackle problems like these. Plus, it isn’t going to stop with the rights of what tend to be called indigenous people. After all, the First People seem to actually be the second people, having mostly wiped the actual first people out. That, of course, is a sadly consistent feature of human history. With the possible exception of the San, every one of us descend from butchers who engaged in genocide and other atrocities.

In a world where “indigenous” seems to simply mean “former conquerors who have since been vanquished” here’s the sort of issue that will eventually come up: is it cultural appropriation for non Jews to treat Jerusalem as a Holy City? Even accounting for the UN’s anti-Semitism, that question alone will result in quite a show. So when it comes, get comfortable. Take out your mouth-plate, loosen up your piu piu, adjust your koteka, kick off your moccasins, put up your feet and enjoy.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (10) | |