Using Intellectual Property Laws to Protect Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and Other News Stories

The World Intellectual Property Organization, a part of the United Nations, is focusing on how to use the Intellectual Property system (patents, copyrights, trade secrets, etc.) to protect indigenous knowledge “from misappropriation and exploitation,” according to a story on the website “Intellectual Property Watch.”

It’s a complicated topic, but the story provides some concrete applications:

One of the examples is from Australia, where a collaborative research project led to a patent. The Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation and the University of South Australia undertook research based on bush medicine plants. Certain compounds were identified to be used in the treatment of inflammation. Patent applications were filed and a patent was granted to the University of South Australia and the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation. Through the agreements signed and the patent jointly owned, both patent owners can decide how the compounds are commercialised, and will share the commercial benefits.

Keep reading for other interesting stories.

New Fact Sheet on Indian Education

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center recently released a Indian Education Fact Sheet that does a great job of summarizing the tragic history of how the United States used the educational system to try to assimilate Native American children.

The fact sheet also provides summary data showing how poorly Native American children still do in the educational system. Here’s one depressing fact: “Across Minnesota in 2015, 51.9% of American Indian students graduated on time – the lowest of all demographic groups, including English Language Learners and Special Education students.”

It concludes with what previous research has said: “Traditional and cultural knowledge is essential to successfully educate Native children.”

Climbers ignore Native requests to stop climbing Bear Lodge (Devil’s Tower) in June

The National Park Service asks visitors to refrain from climbing Devils Tower in June out of respect for American Indians and their ceremonies, according to a story in Wyoming Public Media. “However, the closure is voluntary and the number of climbers in June has been on a steady rise in recent years.”

A climbing management plan was developed in the 1990s. The tribal representatives did not want to impose a climbing ban. The compromise was to ask people not to climb during June out of respect for the sacred site, according to Tim Reid, Superintendent of Devils Tower (Bear Lodge) National Monument. The story said:

As far as updating the climbing management plan, the National Parks Service would like to see the rising June numbers addressed through education, but if necessary they might have to move to a mandatory closure.

BNSF Railway Ignores Agreement with Swinomish Nation; Issue Goes to Court

This is the 21st Century version of a broken treaty promise. In this case, the BNSF Railway blatantly broke its agreement with the Swinomish Nation, sending excess numbers of oil-carrying railcars across Swinomish land without getting permission, according to a story in Indian Country Today.

And as is typically the case, the court battle will drag out for years,. According to the story:

Swinomish sued BNSF Railway in April 2015 after learning that the company was moving 100 railcars a day to and from nearby oil refineries, on tracks that cross Swinomish lands. An easement granted by Swinomish to BNSF Railway limits transport to 25 cars daily. The easement agreement also requires BNSF Railway to regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo it is transporting.

In the easement agreement, Swinomish had agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” if there should be a future BNSF Railway request to increase the number of trains or cars. But according to Swinomish, no such request was made. In January, the court ruled there was no dispute that BNSF had breached the easement agreement, stating “BNSF neither apprised the tribe of its cargo nor obtained the tribe’s written agreement to an increase in the number of trains and the number of cars in those trains.”


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