Protection of First Nations Cultural Heritage: Laws, Policy, and Reform.


464 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1463-8
DDC 971.004'9





Edited by Catherine Bell and Robert K. Paterson
Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Kars,


This volume, a companion to First Nations Cultural Heritage and Law (reviewed separately), covers a wide range of topics on the repatriation of indigenous cultural material and physical remains, the preservation of cultural places and ancestral remains, and the protection of traditional knowledge and indigenous intellectual property.


The first three sections of the book provide a valuable overview of the existing legal framework relating to the protection of indigenous cultural heritage and the limits, both legal and philosophical, of following an approach that focuses entirely on legislated initiatives for the protection of cultural heritage. As Catherine Bell points out in her introduction, there is a tension between the need for law reform in this area and the historical experience of First Nations with the national and provincial legal systems—an experience that has been largely negative and, in relation to the protection of cultural heritage, ineffectual. Several of the contributors to this volume argue that collaborative, local solutions developed as the result of the extensive involvement of First Nations are crucial to achieving success. Examples of this collaborative approach are discussed not only as they apply to the preservation and repatriation of physical and cultural material, but also as they apply to the protection of traditional ecological knowledge; knowledge that has recently been the subject of patent applications or other claims of ownership on the part of multinational corporations.


The fourth part contains the most provocative approaches to cultural heritage protection. The contributing authors argue that the only way to effectively protect indigenous cultural heritage is to recognize and enshrine such protection as part of Canada’s commitment to international human rights law. Ultimately, this requires the recognition of Aboriginal customary law as it pertains to heritage preservation as part of the general common law of Canada. While this is a tall order that will not be achieved quickly, the initiatives made by First Nations’ described in this and the companion work provide encouragement that local action can be effective, even within regional, national, and global frameworks that are flawed or incomplete.


“Protection of First Nations Cultural Heritage: Laws, Policy, and Reform.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,