chapter  4
28 Pages

Intellectual Property

For Indigenous Peoples, the issue of free and prior informed consent (PIC) stretches far beyond industry access to ancestral lands. Today the corporate world is attempting to sell culture and even the building blocks of life itself. It is also using culture to hawk various products throughout the marketplace.1 Globally, no single industry is more implicated in commercializing culture than ecotourism. Cultural content and cultural interpretation in tourism products is a major concern among Indigenous Peoples. Ecotourism companies generally profess to offer something ‘authentic’. Few communities, however, recall any conversation of substance with tour companies operating in their midst. Tour operators regularly survey satisfaction among clients, without first ensuring appropriate community consent, evaluation and monitoring. Worldwide, the ecotourism industry aggressively appropriates and commodifies Indigenous cultures. Land rights are maligned, ceremonies are mocked, millennial arts are debased and healing practices are pirated. In the name of biodiversity conservation, ‘traditional knowledge’ is celebrated, then spirited away to be repackaged for global markets. This plundering has resulted in animated debate on the subject of intellectual property. The ecotourism industry spans multiple sectors, bringing exponential impact. The intellectual property rights (IPRs) regime of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) offers no solutions for this dilemma in ecotourism. Its (ab)user pay approach suggests consent and equity, but is

a leading cause of culture loss globally. Sacred elements of culture are being misappropriated whether they qualify for IPRs ‘protection’ or not. IPRs neither recognize, nor safeguard, ‘property’ that is collective and spiritual in nature. This deadlock demands us to be reflective. Tourism is the largest and fastest-growing industry in the world. Projected rates of growth for ecotourism signal increased pressure on isolated Indigenous Peoples, many of whom have little chance of withstanding the ecotourism onslaught, let alone challenging industry practices. Will we bear witness to industry’s indiscretions or shirk responsibility?