Tribal Intangible Cultural Property: IP or Something More?


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Origin stories, sacred songs, and other types of sacred traditional knowledge are intangible cultural property belonging to tribes or indigenous people. Intangible cultural property is not merely information–it is essential to tribal way of life. Despite its importance, there are currently no federal laws protecting others from appropriating sacred traditional knowledge. This type of knowledge should seemingly be protected by intellectual property or cultural property laws. Intellectual property laws offer protection for a limited time for works of authorship or inventions as a way to incentivize creation. Cultural property laws, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), offer limited protection for some types of tangible cultural property. Neither IP laws nor NAGPRA protect tribal intangible cultural property. This lack of protection leaves tribal intangible cultural property open to appropriation. Professor Rebecca Tsosie, Regents Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law with the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program and Special Advisor to the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion for the University of Arizona, and Chante Westmoreland (JD Candidate ’18) discuss this gap in the law and the harm it perpetuates. Professor Tsosie is one of the leading experts in the field of federal Indian law and tribal law and policy, and has been instrumental in shining a light on the lack of cultural property protection. She joins BTLJ to discuss the harm and complications that come from this lack of protection. Special thanks to Jacob Metoxen (University of Arizona, JD Candidate ’18) for his assistance with this episode.

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