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Librarians and archivists have played prominent roles in initiatives aimed at preserving indigenous cultural heritage in recent decades. Such initiatives have evolved in response to the relative lack of legal protections for indigenous cultural heritage of an intangible nature, especially compared to title laws intended to regulate the use of indigenous lands, burial sites, and plants. Even non-legally binding resolutions that take a holistic approach to indigenous property have proven contentious, with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) having only been ratified in 2007, despite being drafted in 1993. Grounded in a critical understanding of the roles libraries have played in colonial policies and the ongoing (mis-)appropriation of indigenous culture, this poster presentation demonstrates the inadequacy of existing intellectual property laws in the case of indigenous cultural heritage. It problematizes initiatives that situate academic libraries as the preservers of indigenous intellectual property before making the case for a shift in power dynamics based on the principle of “self-determination” for indigenous communities. Alternative frameworks are outlined whereby academic librarians would assume the role of advocates for indigenous intellectual property rights, as opposed to their traditional role as preservation specialists.


Poster presentation at the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) Conference, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, May 30, 2017.