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Chapter 7 & 8: Who Owns Native Culture?

October 10, 2010

Chapter 7 & 8: Who Owns Native Culture

Chapter seven’s focus is on the debate over whether or not to include, and if so, to what degree, the integration of TEK (a.k.a. traditional ecological knowledge).  These debates inquire the able-ness, or capability of a bureaucratic system, such as the U.S. , to sufficiently incorporate ways of knowing that inherently contradict and conflict with the dominant model.  In attempting to do so, a barrage of issues is raised.  For example, critics question the protection of Indigenous peoples ways of knowing, and worry that an all too familiar trend will repeat itself whereby their ways of knowing will become co-opted, comodified , stolen, and/or misrepresented.  At the same time, these groups have “insider” knowledge and information as to how to create more sustainable practices that could solve some serious issues.  However, Brown argues that the process of bureaucracy would make these access points inaccessible since the laws and policies do not recognize alternative discourses and languages.  This reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago about incorporating traditional Inuit ways of knowing into formal education’s curriculum.  The argument was that children in that particular region were losing their culture due to mandatory enrollment in the dominant school system and that incorporating more “local” or traditional Inuit principles would benefit the children greatly.  However, at the same time, the way the implementation process was designed, it still left out vast chunks of Inuit ways of knowing, while only privileging the principles the author felt would be complimentary and do-able within the dominant system.  I remember reading this article thinking to myself, it’s not the Inuit’s deficiency, it’s the dominant culture, just as I tend to see this former example as doing just the same.  In both cases the epistemology of “rationalization” serves to disable multiple cultures to co-exist.  Brown discusses, Weber’s, “Iron-cage,” which is the inescapable dehumanization of our minds and bodies.  More on the “Iron Cage” metaphor is that the institution becomes seen as the deity to which we all are to worship and submit to. People who work for the institution are granted ‘x’ amount of power based on their title relegated by the institution.  Communities are lost, alternative or previous ways of knowing are also either lost or dismissed as irrelevant and unworthy. 

Back to chapter seven, Brown discusses the ways in which policies fragment indigenous ways of knowing.  Since dominant culture compartmentalizes and categorizes everything, which are generally seen as mutually exclusive domains, policies are at best a weak attempt to protect Indigenous rights and cultures since Indigenous cultures see elements that the dominant culture separates as inseparable, and at worst shattering Indigenous ways of knowing. If anything can be gleaned from his words it is that policy should not be the one to mediate and decide how to protect Indigenous knowledge.

Question: We live in a broken system where hierarchy is fundamental, categories are fundamental, dichotomies are fundamental… Knowing this, what do we do to recognize and engender alternative ways of knowing as both important and fundamental sources of learning and knowing, especially with the understanding that there are no tools equipped in our dominant model that currently exist?

                In answering this question, Brown evokes the ‘Total Protection Heritage’ solution, which is a response to dominant systems inability to protect Indigenous rights. TPH is “a benign form of quarantine that safeguards all elements of cultural life” (p. 209). He continues, “Entire cultures would thus be defined as off-limits to scrutiny and exploitation” (p.209).  He cites the Daes Report as being one of the foremost prominent reports that support TPH.   At first, this looks like, what he says, is a “practical” solution; however, when examining its assumptions more closely, Brown sees the Daes Report, in addition to TPH, problematic, and rife with potential problems that could cause even more harm.   Furthermore, he cites Foucault’s notion of “regime,” whereby any inclusion of something into the dominant system, automatically sets the relationship of power off-kilter in favor of the system.  Instead of “freeing” or “protecting” a culture, these incorporations become sites of control where surveillance, regulation, and policing take precedence.  This reminds me of a lot of literature I’ve ready about the 3rd space, and the concept of Naming something.  Once something has been named its identity has been fixed, attributes been attached, and ownership claimed.  I want to think and talk about this more in class.  He uses the “Silver Hand” stamp as an example.  The ‘Silver Hand’ stamp is named and therefore deemed as authentic; that it’s really what it says it is, which is ‘“authentic native handicraft from Alaska.. and a pledge that products to which the tags are affixed are made entirely by the applicant, in Alaska, and using materials defined as “natural”’ (p. 216).  To summarize Brown’s thoughts, TPH is not a good idea and needs to be thought out more.  He states, “In the interest of promoting diversity, Total Heritage Protection imposes procedural norms that have the paradoxical effect of flattening cultural difference” (p. 217-218). Thoughts?

Chapter eight focused largely on the concept, “value pluralism” (p.231) which I interpreted as a conceptual approach that valued diverse perspectives that seeks compromise.  In my understanding of this idea, everybody cannot be satisfied.  Times change, contexts change, and perspectives are bound to clash; however, this doesn’t mean that anything goes but that there are a few ground rules and the rest is up for negotiation.  Is this accurate? He uses the NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) as his site of analysis.  Multiple perspectives are voiced and a possibly (and most likely) long and laborious negotiations process begins.  Brown suggests this way of handling the situation may be take more time and may be more laborious, but it allows for groups and members within groups who have conflicting perspectives to settle their contentions and work through them rather than if the federal government or a policy came in, puts its foot down and made the decision, which might not make anyone happy.   Brown also discusses the important of delineating between economic justice and the broader goal of protecting “cultural integrity” (p. 234) stating that what the debate is about, whether it’s over economic rights could be handled differently than if it were over cultural integrity.  Actually, I want to make sure that I’m following correctly… Am I?

Also, I’m not sure about his markets-based framework that he discusses on p. 235. What is he proffering exactly, and how would that work?  

The next section of the chapter outlines a foreign (to me) domain of copyright, patent, policy, and licensing agreements that I had a hard time following.  What I gathered from this overall section is his advocation for LCP (limited common property), which “is neither completely public nor completely private” (p. 239). From my understanding it is more community-based, where the folks with the most power are the insiders, or, community members.  Since it’s more community based, there is less abuse because 1) the system is much smaller, and, 2) it’s much more likely that everybody knows what everybody’s doing making it difficult more people to hide.

He continues by proposing a civil society model over TPH, which he thinks is a better model and would better address the concerns over Indigenous rights and cultural integrities. Civil societies are less PC, more public-based, and have less restrictions.  It aligns with the LCP model in that the community is responsible for their internal workings.  He uses the example of the public dance at Hopi, which was a performance and mimicry of all groups including its own.  Brown states the advantages of what I understood, a group’s way of getting “stuff off their chest,” which prevents escalation and an outlet of expressing thoughts, beliefs, etc. 

I found this chapter to be challenging and interesting.  I don’t know much about intellectual-property rights and the process of that other than the mainstream version, which is the government and corp. own access to everything…  I have lots of questions, but I’m not sure which ones to ask.

Questions: I guess I would start with the question of whether or not Brown’s view of civil society’s responsibility of handling internal problems is as utopic as I interpreted his words to be, and what, if any, disadvantages could occur, and would the disadvantages, if there are any, still be the lesser of the two, maybe three or more, evils?  The same goes with this concept of “value pluralism” over TPH.  I am more familiar with TPH rhetoric than I am with “value pluralism”…. What do all of you think?  I have no idea what to think at this point. All a lot to digest and think about.

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