Indigenous advocates are petitioning the United Nations to address what some call “cultural appropriation,” requesting that they be granted intellectual property rights similar to those afforded to musicians and writers.
A U.N.-backed group is mulling over three pieces of international law that would do just that. The committee, formed in 2001, has yet to develop language for laws settling the permissions process one has to go though to use an indigenous cultural item or word, who gets paid, and what counts as a culturally distinct item.
James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado and guest speaker at a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said whatever document is agreed upon 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.”
“Companies need to get permission from an indigenous group to use something that is culturally important and we need to develop strategies for how this can be implemented,” he told Fox News.
This would implicate products like Urban Outfitters's “Navajo” line, as well as a Tory Burch coat that was marketed as African-inspired when it was actually modeled after a traditional Romanian garment.
“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,” Aroha Te Pareake Mead, a member of the Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Porou tribes in Wellington, New Zealand, told the CBC.
But some warn that setting out after this cause — one that is often arbitrary and difficult to define — opens up a Pandora's box. For instance, a Portland, Oregon burrito shop owned by two white women was forced to close last month after receiving heat on social media for “culturally appropriating” Mexican food while being “so deep in white privilege.”
— Bob (@rjhopjr) May 18, 2017
“The Left wants to divide America into tiny victim groups, each vying for government control,” Dan Gainor, the vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center, told Fox News. “Dare to have a white person play an Asian role or even cook Pho or standard Mexican fare and those involved must do penance.”
Alden Abbott, deputy director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News that there are solid grounds for legal protections for indigenous groups, yet “when it starts to apply too broadly is when you run into trouble.”