How to protect indigenous intellectual property: lecture two

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture on preliminary findings stemming from research on indigenous intellectual property rights by a visiting scholar from Norway.

 

In his talk, The Fertile Environment for Legal Protections of Native Alaskan Handicraft Heritage, Jacob Adams—a Ph.D. student in law who serves on the law faculty at the University of Tromsø—will discuss early findings from his field research, through which he examined alternative means to protect indigenous intellectual property using trademark law, with a focus on Northwest Coast culture and art.

For the last three months, Adams, who is also a practicing attorney with law degrees from universities in Australia and the United States, has been studying the at.óow, intangible property, and arts and crafts traditions of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people as a visiting scholar at Sealaska Heritage.

“Through interviews with local artists and Native leaders, review of various resources, and actually getting out to experience the culture, I’ve gained invaluable insight into Southeast Alaska’s art environment,” Adams said.

In this second lecture by Adams, he will attempt to summarize his experiences and new knowledge, put it into the context of his research framework, and articulate possible intellectual property solutions to the threats faced by Alaskan Native cultural heritage.

Clans own their at.óowu, which includes crests, names, stories, and songs, and crests often are incorporated into arts and crafts traditions. Historically, the theft of at.óow was deemed a capital offense and traditional law allowed clans to punish people who used at.óow without permission, SHI President Rosita Worl told a crowd at Adams’ first lecture. Initially, the U.S. government recognized Tlingit law and sanctions we imposed, but this changed over time, she said.

“With the coming of Western laws, clans were left without a mechanism to protect our cultural ownership of our at.óow—our property,” said Worl, who has searched in vain for remedies to the issue for years.

Worl currently serves on the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project, an international collaboration of archaeologists, Indigenous organizations, lawyers, anthropologists, ethicists, policy makers, and others concerned about the appropriation of knowledge about the past, and how that may affect communities, researchers, and other stakeholders.

“I haven’t found anything yet that protects our at.óow. More often we have been told that our clan crests have been in the public domain for decades and that ownership protections do not apply,” Worl said.

The lecture is scheduled from noon-1pm, Thursday, April 14, in the Living History Center at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. The event is free and offered as a public service.

SHI sponsors a Visiting Scholar Program for graduate students enrolled into an accredited educational institution or professors engaged in research that advances knowledge of Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian culture, language, arts, or history.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Trad

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