Accepted Paper:

Indigenous knowledge in international law  


James Phillips (Wichita Indochinese Center)

Paper short abstract:

International law recognizes that states have a legal obligation to incorporate indigenous knowledge and technologies in providing education and services to indigenous peoples. There is a debate as to the legal basis for ownership or control of indigenous knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

International law arguably recognizes that a state has a duty to preserve and protect indigenous knowledge. Convention 169 of the UN"s International Labour Organization (1989) specifies that states must provide "education" and "services" to indigenous people and that such education and services "shall incorporate indigenous knowledge and technologies." The United Nations General Assembly, in its Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), finds that "respect for indigenous knowledge, culture and traditional practices contribute to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment."

International law is frequently called upon to resolve issues related to a state's duty to respect indigenous knowledge and technologies; the alleged right of indigenous peoples to be given notice of and the opportunity to consent to development projects impacting on their way of life; the content of indigenous knowledge; and the question of whether Western concepts of intellectual property are incompatible or can be reconciled with indigenous peoples' cultural identity, communal ownership of land and in such areas as traditional medicine, agriculture and natural resource management. These issues will be addressed in this paper.

Panel P036
Indigenous knowledge and sustainable development (Commission on Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development)