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Indigenous intellectual property

Indigenous intellectual property is an umbrella legal term used in national and international forums to identify indigenous peoples' rights to protect their specific cultural knowledge and intellectual property.

It is a concept that has developed out of a predominantly western legal tradition of intellectual property law, and has most recently been promoted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, as part of a more general United Nations push to see the diverse wealth of the world's indigenous, intangible cultural heritage better valued and better protected against perceived, ongoing thievery.

Nation states across the world have experienced difficulties reconciling local indigenous laws and cultural norms with a predominantly western legal system, in many cases leaving indigenous peoples' individual and communal intellectual property rights largely unprotected. Therefore, international bodies such as the United Nations have become involved in the issue, making more specific declarations that intellectual property also includes cultural property such as historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, and performing arts in addition to artwork and literature.

While a number of Native American and First Nations communities have issued tribal declarations over the past 35 years, in the lead up to and during the United Nations International Year for the World's Indigenous Peoples (1993) then during the following United Nations Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004) a number of conferences of both indigenous and non-indigenous specialists were held in different parts of the world, resulting in a number of unified declarations and statements identifying, explaining, refining, and defining 'indigenous intellectual property'.

Before ceremonies and ceremonial knowledge were affirmed as protected intellectual property by the U.N. General Assembly, smaller coalitions of Indigenous cultural leaders met to issue declarations about protection of ceremonial knowledge. In 1980, spiritual leaders of the Northern Cheyenne, Navajo, Hopi, Muskogee, Chippewa-Cree, Haudenosaunee and Lakota Nations met on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, and issued a resolution that:

"...record the authorship and significance of the haka Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and ... work with Ngāti Toa to address their concerns with the haka... [but] does not expect that redress will result in royalties for the use of Ka Mate or provide Ngāti Toa with a veto on the performance of Ka Mate...".


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