Native American Activists Lobby UN to Ban ‘Cultural Appropriation’ Worldwide

The United Nations stands in midtown Manhattan
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A group of Native American and indigenous activists are lobbying the United Nations to outlaw "cultural appropriation" across the globe.

Critics of "cultural appropriation" believe that people should not adopt ideas, art, food, clothing, or other elements of cultures they do not belong to. Most recently, pop star Katy Perry apologized for appropriating African-American culture by wearing cornrows and eating watermelon in a music video.

A specialized committee within the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization has been considering several draft documents on indigenous appropriation for the past two decades, CBC News reported Tuesday. If passed, international intellectual property regulations would expand to protect "indigenous designs, dances, words, and traditional medicines."

On Monday, University of Colorado Law School Dean James Anaya told the committee that the U.N. should "obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions."

Anaya in particular cited a lawsuit in which the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for marketing clothing as "Navajo" despite no involvement from actual members of the tribe. That suit was settled out of court in 2016.

The leadership of Canada's indigenous community also supports the proposed U.N. action.

"The elders and knowledge keepers are the authorities who should oversee the creation of guidelines and a process for utilizing Indigenous knowledge in any activities," Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde told CBC.