Indigenous advocates call on UN to make cultural appropriation illegal

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 15 June 2017 15:11
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The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations agency, is being asked to bring in "effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures" to prevent people profiting from cultural appropriation.

A specialised committee made up of delegates from 189 countries has for some time been working on legislation that would protect indigenous designs, dances, words, medicines and more.

James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado cited Urban Outfitters' "Navajo hipster panties", "Navajo print flask" and "peace treaty feather necklaces" as examples of products falsely advertised as Indigenous-made or endorsed.

Speaking to the committee on Monday, Mr Anaya 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 visits indigenous tribes in Nuevo Andoa, Peru in 2013 (Getty)

The Navajo Nation reached an out of court settlement with Urban Outfitters in 2012, but many Indigenous leaders are frustrated with the lack of real progress over the 16 years since the committee started.

"We are only halfway through 2017 and yet the number of occurrences of misappropriation happening to Indigenous Peoples in all regions of the world seems relentless with no relief in sight," said Aroha Te Pareake Mead, a member of the Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou tribes in Wellington, New Zealand.

"We asked the international community to help deal with a problem that traverses international boundaries and are still waiting."

(via CBC)

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