Intellectual Property

Ethics that Govern Aboriginal Spiritual People in the Age of Media


Aboriginal communities are the guardians of a collection of sacred knowledge including ceremonies that are becoming increasingly open to unauthorized commercial exploitation by individuals, companies or institutions. Music, songs, dance, stories, designs and symbols are passed on in many Aboriginal communities from memory and by word of mouth.

Everything is in a spiritual order with specific protocols in place to call upon the supernatural, the creator, through ritual; this is the power we all recognize on some level of our being. The challenge for us now is about learning to master the ability to walk with different worldviews as a Native person of this land. In our man made world we have our digital communications; our lives constantly change in material form. In the other world we enter ritual to call in the spirit of our ancestors, the spirit, the supernatural; the connection to all life. We are governed by these ancient rules.

If we do not maintain this connection through our rituals, then our prayers become empty gestures. What of the real emotional hurt and violence that comes from being dispossessed of ones spiritual ceremonies? We rarely talk about the internalized aggression and hurt that results from Aboriginal people being driven out of their own societies and culture because of the assimilative practices of government.

Each community transmits and uses its traditional knowledge. This knowledge is also very dynamic and evolves with the people of its culture.

Aboriginal people are looking after this information and want to prevent exploitation and appropriation. Aboriginal communities are also in a position to enjoy and share benefits received from that knowledge. This can contribute to goals of self-reliance and self-government.

Is it appropriate to use Canadian Intellectual Property law to protect sacred knowledge? Or do Aboriginal communities need to develop their own guidelines to prevent unwanted disclosure to ensure that traditional knowledge remains within the community.

Intellectual property rights are about the real living relationships maintained by Native people with their land, arts, oral traditions, literatures, designs in the natural and man made worlds. This is also about how treasures of the past are to be protected, shared and passed down in good shape, physically and spiritually to the coming generations.

Aboriginal driven guidelines will have to be enforced by the communites since there may not be any recourse to the courts if one of its members or someone from outside the community violates the guidelines. Is one answer to obtain informed consent from the Aboriginal community when traditional knowledge is shared with others? And how can we ensure that this happens? Please see our Terms of Use.

We welcome your constructive and positive comments, insights and knowledge.

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