Dec 22/97: Mohawk on protection of intellectual property


Mohawk Nation Office - Kahnawake Branch
Monday, December 22, 1997


Women, men, Rotianer, Iotianer and children of the Longhouse at Kahnawake extend to you a greeting and thanksgiving. We are hopeful that this communication finds all of you in good health in mind and body.

This is to inform you that the Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council is embarking on a trade project that affects all Haudenosaunee. We have been made aware that a trade agreement is to be signed January 18, 1998 in Mexico City. All negotiations have been done behind closed doors. This project is named "Project OK" and will be using Haudenosaunee symbols and sacred Wampum belts which will be mass-produced by Mexico and sent back to the Americas for distribution and sale.

We urge all Haudenosaunee and supporters to help stop this exploitation of our intellectual properties that belong to the Haudenosaunee and not to Canadian citizens. We have attatched the "Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake Position on the Protection of Intellectual Properties From Commercial Misuse." We need to act quickly, as there is little time left. We ask that all the communities and supporters send out letters to the Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Mexican Government voicing concern and opposition to this Agreement.


Click HERE for sample letter and addresses

Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake

Position on the Protection of Intellectual Properties From Commercial Misuse

The Mohawk Band Council of Kahnawake, calling themselves the 'Mohawks of Kahnawake', will be signing an international trade agreement January 18, 1998; the Band Council has drafted regulations and is taking patents or ownership on cultural symbols and intellectual property which belongs to all Haudenosaunee Peoples without the knowledge or consent of the owners. For centuries the Indigenous people of the Americas have been losing our cultural property and today we are left struggling to preserve what is left of our cultural identity and to maintain our collective and individual traditional practices.

Cultural or Intellectual Property refers to a design, product or technical process, such as wampum belts, which is protected by means of copyright, trademark or patent. This protection grants the inventor, an individual or corporation, the exclusive right to use the property or to earn royalties by renting or selling its use. Exclusive rights to intellectual property are legally granted as a reward for developing it. The preamble of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property" adopted at its sixteenth session in Paris on November 14, 1970 reads as follows:

"Considering that cultural property constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization and national culture, and that its true value can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding its origin, history, and traditional setting."
This UNESCO convention is meant to stop the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property and was the first major step taken by the United Nations to address centuries of plunder of Indigenous cultural property. However, misuse or outright theft continues today. The Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council has no authority from the Confederacy to represent the sovereign Mohawk Nation. The "Oaxaca-Kahnawake Trade and Commerce Convention" or "Project OK" to be signed on January 18, 1998; between the Government of the Republic of Mexico, the Canadian Government, the State of Oaxaca, the Indigenous Peoples of Oaxaca and the Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council representing themselves as the 'Mohawks of Kahnawake'; is an international trade project that affects all Haudenosaunee. The Band Council is an arm of the Canadian Government. In actuality, the Mohawk Nation consists of seven different communities on both sides of the so-called Canada/United States border (Kahnawake, Wahta, Akwesasne, Kaienkeh, Tyendenega, Six Nations Reserve and Kahnesatake) with the ability to make Treaties and international agreements as affirmed by natural, constitutional and international law. The Kanienkehaka constitution is the Kaienerekowa, or Great Law of Peace. Those who uphold the Canadian Constitution through the Indian Act system are legally not Haudenosaunee. Therefore, any trade agreements made on behalf of the Mohawk Nation by the Band Council are not valid.

This Agreement is "to establish necessary agreements and support structures to market and sell primary and manufactured products (both from Oaxaca and Canada) throughout North America and eventually to European and other markets under an 'Indians of the Americas' Label." Essentially, this is supposed to curb the flow of non-Indian imitation arts and crafts manufactured elsewhere and sold around the world, except that it has the effect of limiting ownership of Iroquois symbols and their use. Within three months of the signing, an Indigenous Trade and Commerce Commission will be set up to mediate and arbitrate all matters relating making and marketing of Iroquois arts and crafts.

This Commission will oversee the research, negotiation and completion of all trade-mark, patent and other intellectual property right protection systems not only regarding Mohawks but other indigenous trade in products or services. In effect, this agreement subordinates ancient Mohawk sovereignty under Canada and Mexico and sets up a non-Indigenous commission to certify and regulate the use of Mohawk/Iroquois cultural property which belongs to all Haudenosaunee Peoples.

This Agreement will decide who can and cannot manufacture Mohawk/Iroquois goods in trade and commerce between Canada and Mexico or "other markets" and involves the regulation of all labels, trade-marks, patents or other intellectual property protection by the Commission. Those who wish to be included under the Agreement have to agree to be regulated by the Commission.

The Haudenosaunee Council of Chiefs have already taken steps to protect the Haudenosaunee People against such violations and theft of cultural property as set out in a February 2, 1986 Communiqué:

"The Haudenosaunee(also known as the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy), and, each member nation (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora) separately and collectively claim all sacred objects, human remains, and traditional territory as our cultural patrimony, and our national cultural treasures...The chiefs, clanmothers, faithkeepers, and members of our contemporary traditional medicine societies and the people that they serve are the rightful owners and authorities of our cultural patrimony and our national cultural treasures...It is the obligation and trust responsibility of each succeeding generation of chiefs, clanmothers, faithkeepers, and members of the Haudenosaunee to preserve our patrimony and national cultural treasures for the seventh generation to come...Therefore, the disturbance, destruction, and theft of our patrimony is a violation of our human rights; a violation of our group rights; and a violation of the religious and spiritual welfare of our people...Therefore, all other entities are secondary and must give way to the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee and our people as the ultimate and final title holder of our patrimony."
This includes the theft of ownership as proposed in the Agreement. In the past we have had to pressure museums and wealthy entrepreneurs to not exploit our sacred treasures for profit and without our free and informed consent or permission. Today it is Mohawks governed by the Canadian Government Indian Act who are taking advantage of the political gains Haudenosaunee nationalists have made internationally. This foreign entity "Mohawk Council of Kahnawake" is violating Haudenosaunee Law for profit.

The main result of the Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council entering into any international agreement is the subordination of national Mohawk sovereignty which the Haudenosaunee Peoples as a collective have been defending for centuries. Also because the Agreement will be regulated by foreign entities this will result in a change in the jurisdiction of the Mohawk Nation which will ultimately affect basic Mohawk rights in self-determination, return of lands and resources which make up our identity. Patenting of our intellectual property by outsiders is being promoted by the Kahnawake Mohawk Band Council's entry into an agreement with the Mexican and Canadian governments and is not supported by the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake.

Passed and Sealed by the People's Council, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory
December 21, 1997

Mohawk Nation Office - Kahnawake Branch

Back to SIS