Protect the Sacred


At Otahpiaaki, we're committed to fighting for the rights of Indigenous designers. No knockoffs allowed!


Otahpiaaki 2017 is a week-long celebration of Indigenous Beauty, Fashion and Design based at Mount Royal University in Calgary, AB. We believe the work of reconciliation is for neighbours and that important conversations and teachings can be shared through story and song, fashion, music, film, language and traditional and contemporary craft practices.
Beyond Fashion Week, Otahpiaaki student teams research and co-create opportunities for development. This includes design and social enterprise ideas with the intent to promote, connect, and protect each unique collection. Over the next seven years, we want to contribute to significant social, cultural, restorative, and economic improvements across Indigenous communities by offering capacity-building resources.

At Otahpiaaki, we want to explore deep beauty from a bold, Nation-to-Nation perspective. To me, this means promoting and protecting the identity, land-based stories, industrial designs, and intellectual property rights of Indigenous designers and artists. My efforts are part of a growing, exciting movement.

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Around the world, other Indigenous activists are calling on the UN committee to ban the appropriation of Indigenous cultures worldwide. Delegates from 189 countries met in Geneva in June 2017 as part of a specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization, which is a United Nations agency. As amazing as this may sound, the committee has been working on the draft documents for 16 years. Indigenous participation is low, and Indigenous groups around the world are not being consulted with nearly enough. Currently, there is no Indigenous representation in the Canadian delegation, and this is why Otahpiaaki is such a critical and timely initiative.

Here's a legal crash course: 
Intellectual Property is protected under Canadian Law the Trade-Marks Act, the Patent Act, the Copyright Act, and the Industrial Design Act. Fashion design and artistic patterns fit with Industrial Design legislation. Industrial designs are the features of a product that are appealing to the eye. When you register your industrial design, you are protected under Canadian law to litigate against appropriation of your work and designs. To be eligible for registration, your design must be original and it cannot closely resemble another design. It takes some work to develop definitions but a patent and trademark agent can be a tremendous help and this professional assistance is worth the investment.

Why is it so hard to protect the Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous culture? Here are some reasons:

    1. Indigenous heritage is often seen as public domain or “up for grabs”, especially by those who are appropriating the culture.
    2. Intellectual Property law was not designed for Indigenous innovation, which includes collective processes, collective custodianship, and the strong spiritual dimension.
    3. Many Indigenous customs and designs are passed down through oral tradition, making it impossible for them to be replicated - thus less patentable.  This is at odds with Indigenous notions of prerogative and lineage which, in some cases, conveys and confers rights to an artist or designer from another (--often an Elder or family member who was given rights, etc.)
    4. Because the current legislation and Intellectual Property laws are not designed for Indigenous worldviews and transfer protocols, this means there must be legislation reform at home and abroad. Otahpiaaki is a platform that promotes and protects Indigenous culture, and we hope to be involved in the process at the WIPO committee.
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There has been an initiative created by Local Contexts that supports Indigenous communities in the management of their intellectual property and cultural heritage. This initiative fills all the gaps that are in Legislation when it comes to the protection of Indigenous Intellectual Property. Local Context uses Traditional Knowledge labels that they refer to as TK Labels. These labels are a tool for Indigenous communities to add to existing protocols for access and use to recorded cultural heritage that is online and circulating outside of Indigenous communities.

Creating law reform around Indigenous land-based stories, industrial designs, and intellectual property rights is the next step in the future. With initiatives like Local Context there is the possibility of reframing legislation and addressing some of what's been missing: collective processes, collective custodianship, and the strong spiritual dimension.
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For more information about Local Context and TK Labels please visit their website to learn more:

Photo 1: Faceless
Photo 2: Motionless
Photo 3: Nestene

All photos: Carsten Frenzl from Obernburg, Deutschland

Mosaic image: Angel Aubichon

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