Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Treated like Mines:' Feds Mull Stronger Rules for Indigenous Cultural Property

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Treated like Mines:' Feds Mull Stronger Rules for Indigenous Cultural Property

Article excerpt

Feds consider stronger Indigenous copyright

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The federal government is considering how to legally enshrine Indigenous people's ownership of traditional culture -- from songs to art to the use of medicinal plants.

Ottawa has signed agreements with the Assembly of First Nations and the Metis National Council to explore ways for Aboriginal communities to control and benefit from their cultural knowledge.

"We want Indigenous people to understand ... that their traditional knowledge and traditional culture expressions are protected in a manner they feel comfortable with," said an official, speaking on background, from Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

It's an attempt to reconcile western individualist concepts with Aboriginal ideas of common inheritance. It must balance ownership against stewardship and temporary rights with permanent protection.

"When it comes to First Nations knowledge and cultural expression, every copyright, trademark or patent regime does not accommodate First Nations interest," said Stuart Wuttke, an AFN lawyer who was in Geneva last week for international meetings on the issue.

"There's no protection for that knowledge. Anybody can come and use that knowledge for themselves."

The question has deep roots in Indigenous communities, said Niigaan Sinclair of the University of Manitoba's Native Studies Department.

"This is absolutely huge," he said. "Indigenous peoples are treated like mines. We're like things to be extracted and stolen from and then turned back to those communities and charged triple the price."

Canada is just at the start of a long and complex discussion, said University of Ottawa law professor Jeremy de Beer. Copyright law may not even be the right way to address it.

"Copyright and patent law lack the legal tools to allow for truly collective ownership of content or ideas. …

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