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Librarians, Tribal Sovereignty and Traditional Knowledge

What do Johnny Depp, Nelly Furtado, and Urban Outfitters have in common? They each have contributed to the controversies surrounding representations of indigenous communities in mainstream media. The question that continually comes up is, “who has the right to represent indigenous communities?” and “what are the responsibilities to indigenous communities from the dominant culture?”

The discussion surrounding the protection of traditional cultural expressions is complex, which is why the American Indian Library Association and the Committee on Archives, Libraries and Museums will host a discussion about traditional cultural expressions from an American Indian perspective during the annual American Library Association conference later this month. The program, titled “Traditional Cultural Expressions: The Intersection of Indigenous Communities, Information Professionals, and Intellectual Freedom,” will be held on Saturday, June 23, 2012, from 1:30 p.m.—3:30 p.m. in the Hilton Capistrano room.

Traditional cultural expressions may exist in the form of music, art, performances, storytelling, symbols, and cultural knowledge. These expressions represent the core values and beliefs of indigenous communities. With the evolution of technology these “expressions of folklore,” as defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization, can be made accessible across many platforms and across the globe like never before.

In the past decade the conversation has focused on the role that information professionals play as stewards to traditional knowledge. Access to information is one of the core tenants of the libraries Bill of Rights. The contradiction of providing access to information to all while protecting the cultural communities restrictions, leaves many unsure where to hold their alliance.

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright is a former press officer of the Washington Office.

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