Philosophy

An increased sense of group identity and self-assertion on the part of indigenous cultures around the world has raised important questions about the ownership of indigenous culture, especially cultural property found in museums and archives.  While many artifacts found in museums for the visual arts are being returned to their cultural owners under mandates such as the U.S. Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, indigenous intellectual property continues to be exploited by archives, corporations, and governments around the world.  A handful of countries, especially those with large and politically powerful indigenous populations like Australia and New Zealand, have taken measures to begin the process of repatriation of cultural intellectual property.  In North America, scholars and activists from a variety of backgrounds are beginning to discuss the ethics of holding music and dance recordings from Native American Tribes and some have made attempts to repatriate these important artifacts into cultures where much of the indigenous identity has been lost (Fox and Sakakibara, 2007).

Field recordings made in the 1930s and 1940s and archived in Columbia University’s Center for Ethnomusicology, which contain Hopi cultural property, provide a singular opportunity for exploring questions in the area of musical repatriation.  On one hand, these recordings are invaluable research tools for ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and for the American public, who ideally should be educated in the indigenous heritage of the land on which they live.  On the other hand, the recordings are an important link to Hopi past and identity, and contain highly sensitive material.  For Hopi, intellectual knowledge could be considered something akin to tangible property (Brown, 2003), something to which American culture and law grants control of use, rights to economic gain, and rights over access to the owner.  While U.S. copyright may present a claim for joint ownership or relegate the recordings to the public domain, Hopi concepts of cultural ownership also apply, especially given the sovereignty of the Hopi tribe.  This project seeks to address the following question: based on Hopi and U.S. concepts of intellectual property, to whom do these recordings rightfully belong and what should be done with them?

In examining U.S. and Hopi concepts of intellectual property and seeking to answer the question of ownership, arguments will be presented from a variety of perspectives including current anthropology, ethnomusicology, copyright law, historic preservation and archiving, public policy (including cultural policy and Native American policy), and indigenous studies.  But more importantly, arguments from these disciplines will be countered by the opinions of the actual performers (or, the next of kin as many of these performers may have no longer be alive), Hopi musicians and artists, and religious and political leaders.  Finally, potential uses for these recordings will be presented here based on ideas from interview subjects, and theories constructed from a broad array of sources will be introduced here posing solutions for how to re-imagine these materials.  Ultimately, the goal of this project is to create and carry out complete repatriation of these materials from Columbia University’s Center for Ethnomusicology to the indigenous spaces which will make them useful again.

This blog is meant to keep stakeholders and interested individuals informed of how the project develops.  It is also a way to bring new ideas into this project, and challenge existing ones.  Please comment!

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One Response to Philosophy

  1. Pingback: Hopi Music Repatriation Project « Beyond the Mesas

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