How do you patent a landscape? The perils of dichotomizing cultural and intellectual property
a1 Native American Studies, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
For a variety of conceptual, historical, and political reasons, contemporary international law distinguishes between 'natural' land forms, cultural monuments, movable cultural property, the performing arts, and scientific knowledge. Indigenous peoples do not make these distinctions. Rather, they tend to regard landscapes as inherently cultural products in which artworks, literature, performances, and scientific-knowledge systems are inextricably embedded. Scientific knowledge must periodically be rehearsed within the landscape in recitations and performances that remember the historical process by which people and their nonhuman kinfolk constructed the landscape. Detaching specific cultural or scientific 'objects' from the landscape and commodifying them, as is contemplated by most current proposals for protecting indigenous peoples' rights, will undermine the indigenous institutions and procedures necessary for perpetuating the quality and validity of local knowledge.