So, the word in trade negotiations today is that the new agreement for North America, whatever else it may entail, affirms copyright as extending for the life of the author, plus 70 years.
I find myself wondering what that means for Indigenous communities, where the concepts of copyright are stringent in their own terms, but often quite distinct from how the mainstream understands copyright.
As an Indigenous person, I often describe myself as “free range,” which offers a light-hearted acknowledgement of my status, whereby I’m (as an adult) a ‘Treaty Indian’ but have never lived in the First Nation to which I belong. Call me an ‘internal expat’ – or ‘domestic expat’? Actually, before the labeling goes too far, I’ll return to the point:
I was raised with a pride in my identity, but outside ancestral territory. Therefore, I’m not part of that continuum of specialist knowledge that is protected by Indigenous copyright protocols. I have learned some songs, and been told by the Elders who shared them to sing them onward, to share that part of our culture. I know some stories. The personal ones are that, personal. The others – for instance, how Ininatiq gave the gift of Maple Sugar to the people – are also available to the larger non-Indigenous community. I learned that story from a library book. Somebody else went through the process of sorting out the protocols for publishing that story as general knowledge.
I’ve adapted that story my ownself, as part poem, part narrative. I even printed up a handful of chapbooks with my telling in them. And then I stopped. Because I found I didn’t know what was correct in terms of publishing, in that manner, a story that does belong to my community, that is intimately part of my family history, and so belongs to me. Is it, however, correct for me to publish my version? This is a question that I will seek an answer for.
I won’t find that answer in “Life + 70,” but it is nonetheless going to figure in the discussion, when the discussion comes. Let’s see what unfolds.
Meanwhile, here’s to all the cultural workers, within The Writers’ Union of Canada, in other organizations, and working ad hoc without a formal community; here’s to all the ways we can support creating work that uplifts, informs and transforms our communities for the better.
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I post to this blog for anyone to read, for free; but I do expect attribution when and if you use my words, and if they are to be commercially published, I reserve the right to both attribution and recompense.