Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: December 22nd, 2020

Research to focus on indigenous intellectual property rights

Jan. 19, 2016

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is sponsoring a visiting scholar from Norway who is researching indigenous intellectual property rights.

Jacob Adams is a Ph.D. student in law and on the law faculty at the University of Tromsø in Norway. He is also a practicing attorney with law degrees from universities in Australia and the United States. Through his project, he will examine alternative means to protect indigenous intellectual property using trademark law, with a focus on Northwest Coast culture and art.

The institute is particularly keen on Adams’ research, as the protection of ownership of Tlingit clan property or at.óowu—including  crests, names, songs, stories—has been an ongoing, major concern for years, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“More often we have been told that our clan crests have been in the public domain for decades and that ownership protections do not exist,” Worl said.

Through the study, Adams will reimagine indigenous cultural heritage and other vestiges of contemporary indigenous groups not as mere pieces of the cultural history but as pieces of protectable intellectual property.  With this paradigm shift comes the advantages and strength of a fertile intellectual property precedent, giving indigenous groups true control over their heritage, Adams said.

“Further, my project will take practical examples of indigenous heritage and evaluate the most effective intellectual property protection mechanism available at the moment, its most beneficial use, and the benefit that such protection could bestow upon the respective indigenous group,” said Adams, noting that the last portion of his project will review the current regimes effectiveness, in light of the reimagining, highlight shortcomings and provide innovative suggestions for progress in the protection of indigenous peoples. 

Adams will be a visiting scholar at Sealaska Heritage through April 2016. He will be interviewing artists who produce at.óow for clans and those who sell their artwork. While in Juneau he will give two public lectures: one introducing his work and another on his preliminary findings upon completion of his field research.

SHI sponsors a Visiting Scholar Program for graduate students enrolled into an accredited educational institution or professors engaged in research that advances knowledge of Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian culture, language, arts, or history.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

CONTACT: Rosita Worl, President, 907.463.4844

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