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Indigenous Intellectual Property - Part 1


Annie Webb


Nov 15, 2023


Nov 15, 2023


In part 1 of the Canadian Mountain Podcast’s two-part series on Indigenous intellectual property (IP), our guests Kyle Napier and Saad Iqbal, both researchers and doctoral students at the University of Alberta, discuss their research on how Canadian IP laws can better serve in safeguarding the knowledge held by Indigenous communities. Part 1 explores IP, traditional knowledge, and the inherent conflicts arising from differing views on information and ownership.

Listen to the podcast:

Canadian copyright law offers protection for an individual's work throughout their lifetime and an additional 70 years posthumously. Subsequently, once this period elapses, the copyright protection for the individual concludes, rendering their work accessible, adaptable, and open to the public domain. However, this legal safeguard inadequately addresses the ongoing knowledge shared by Indigenous communities, leaving their IP susceptible to appropriation and exploitation.

Napier and Iqbal discuss their ongoing research, focusing on how Canadian IP laws can better serve as custodians of traditional knowledge. They are conducting an in-depth examination of Canada's IP laws and their impact on information control and the beneficiaries, particularly within the context of Indigenous knowledge. Central to their exploration is the crucial role of ownership and control in responsibly working with Knowledge Holders. Historically, there is a tradition of both researchers and media-makers extracting information from Indigenous Peoples, resulting in the researcher holding copyright instead of the communities.

The Government of Canada defines Traditional Knowledge (TK) “know-how, skills, innovations and practices developed by Indigenous peoples related to biodiversity, agriculture, health and craftsmanship”. Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs) generally refer to “tangible and intangible forms in which TK and culture are expressed and may include oral stories, artwork, handicrafts, dances, fabric, songs or ceremonies. It is also recognized that TK and TCEs can be collectively held and may evolve and change over time as they are passed down from generation to generation”. 

Indigenous IP is defined differently by various organizations, governments, and Indigenous communities. It is also important to recognize that Indigenous IP is inherently linked to the land, encompassing language, knowledge, and worldviews in a profoundly land-based manner. The absence of a singular definition for Indigenous IP underscores the need for community-specific approaches to protection. 

Indigenous knowledge is intrinsically tied to the collective role of the entire group in the creative process, emphasizing acknowledgment of contributions made by individuals across generations. Canadian IP laws generally focus on protecting the rights of individual creators, primarily those whose innovations exist in physical formats. However, these formal IP systems may not adequately protect collectively-owned TK and TCEs transferred intergenerationally, especially given the oral transmission of Indigenous knowledge, making it susceptible to exploitation.

Intellectual property varies across communities, demanding sovereignty for each group to determine how to safeguard and share their knowledge. Uniform laws and legislation prove inadequate for the diverse needs of individual communities.

The podcast emphasizes the disparity between settler-colonialist conventions of truth and Indigenous notions, challenging the assumption of singularity in settler conventions. The discussion advocates for recognizing the plurality of Indigenous perspectives, particularly in how truth is understood.

Kyle, a Dene/nêhiyaw Métis from Fort Smith Northwest Territories, brings a wealth of expertise as a university instructor specializing in Indigenous language revitalization, social policy and law, communications and technology, and IP. He is also a doctoral student at the University of Alberta in Educational Policy Studies and serves as one of the senior producers for the Canadian Mountain Podcast.

Saad, a master architect and international PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Alberta, collaborates with Kyle on research related to Indigenous IP and copyright. Additionally, he plays a vital role in the podcast team in a research capacity.

Listen to the podcast here!
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