UN Committee Called On To Ban Cultural Appropriation
‘Indigenous advocates’ from all across the globe are calling on a UN committee to ban the appropriation of Indigenous cultures. However the ban isn’t enough, no the speed at which the ban is carried out is very much emphasized, according to advocates. Delegates from 189 countries are in Geneva this week as part of a committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency. What a surprise to understand that one of the nations is in fact Canada!
The committee has been working on creating and finishing three pieces of international law. This process has been going on for 16 years. The pieces of international law would expand intellectual-property regulations to protect things like Indigenous designs, dances, words and traditional medicines. The designs are included within headdresses and even patterns. However it is questionable how words would be banned, as many languages have been created and adapted under the influence of other cultures and nations too- therefore would we need a list of words that we can use and not use?
Who copyrights language?
Concern is growing worldwide about the rights of cultures to control their own materials. It is debatable however, that rights in terms of production can be copyrighted. Essentially this is what the law is- a copyright law. With that in mind, how do we specifically decide a multi-nation creation- for example a certain dish?
In the U.S. this week, designer Tory Burch agreed to change the description of one of her coats for women after Romanians protested that it had been described as African-inspired, however the actual coat ‘appropriated’ a specific Romanian garment.
Another example where another group of ‘advocates’ stepped in was in 2011 where purchased items from the Urban Outfitters’ Navajo line were shown in Tempe, Ariz. The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters months after the tribe sent a letter to the clothing retailer demanding it pull the ‘Navajo’ name from its products. The Navajo Nation launched a legal battle against the company for trademark infringement in 2012. The case was settled out of court late last year.
When the aspect of cultural appropriation appeared, many laughed and before we knew it, cultural appropriation became a meme of the internet. However it seems that a lot of university campuses in the USA didn’t quite follow the joke and proceeded in proactively discouraging students from dressing up with creativity. Yale was among those universities and even made a notice board to help advise students on what is appropriate to wear on Halloween.