One of Canada’s greatest challenges, both today and for the future, concerns the protection of tangible and intangible heritage. A society’s identity, sense of place, and wellbeing are intrinsically tied to its heritage.
In multicultural and settler states like Canada, the challenges associated with the recognition, respect, and protection of cultural heritage can be particularly acute and, as is evident today, are often a source of conflict, with substantial social, political, and economic consequences.
While heritage is important to all peoples, and everyone has a cultural legacy worthy of respect and protection, Indigenous peoples have historically had the least control over their heritage, including little say in decisions made over sites and places of great importance to them. Indigenous peoples have also received the least benefit from research conducted on their heritage. Indeed, all too often Indigenous peoples’ stories, lifeways, traditional knowledge, and cultural sites are viewed as part of the public domain, free for the taking and enjoyment of others.
In recent years there has been a substantial commitment in such disciplines as Archaeology and Anthropology to address these concerns, with researchers seeking more meaningful inclusion of, and collaborations with, Indigenous peoples in projects related to their cultural heritage. However, there are still tremendous challenges in moving into establishing more respectful, ethical, and effective policies to protect Indigenous cultural heritage, and in putting these into practice, especially when fundamental differences exist between Western and Indigenous societies over how heritage is perceived or defined.
Fully recognizing, respecting, and protecting Indigenous cultural heritage is more than an issue of academic interest as it is bound up with challenging questions about sovereignty and jurisdiction, about social justice and human rights, and about how Indigenous peoples can most effectively control access to, and benefits from, theirheritage. Indigenous peoples throughout Canada and beyond, long affected by disenfranchisement, loss of language and culture, and fragmentation of their societies, continue to seek meaningful engagement with those controlling their heritage. Thus, professional organizations, government agencies, and international organization such as the United Nations and World Intellectual Property Organization are increasingly joining with universities and Indigenous organizations to develop solutions to these challenges.
These questions and concerns provide the background for our colloquium, which seeks to engage directly with these topics not by rehashing now-familiar issues and examples, but by exploring new approaches to collaborative research and policy development, with a particular focus on those that foreground the interests and concerns of Indigenous communities.
The series of free public lectures will create an interdisciplinary forum for dialogue between faculty members, students and diverse community groups.