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Vol 40  No 11
March 13, 2008



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Who owns the past?
by Sharon Gray

Dr. Daryl Pullman

(Photo by HSIMS)

Who has the right to benefit from genetic material from indigenous people or artifacts from the past?

That’s a question bioethicist Dr. Daryl Pullman, Division of Community Health and Humanities, is pondering. He’s working with a major project on intellectual property issues in cultural heritage, headed up by Dr. George Nicholas, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University.

The project has just received $2.5 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities and Research Council of Canada. An international and interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, lawyers, anthropologists, museum specialist, ethicists and others will explore issues surrounding legal and ethic entitlements to information derived from cultural heritage. The project will focus in particular on the archaeological record and other aspects of the past.

Dr. Pullman, who has extensive experience in the ethical issues involved in human genetic research, said the project is addressing some major issues of particular concern to indigenous peoples. “For example, who has the right to control their artifacts, their ancient burial sites, and their DNA?”

Working in collaboration with indigenous and other communities, the project aims to identify a range of intangible cultural heritage and intellectual property concerns. Nicholas and his team intend the results to assist descendant communities, archaeologists, academic institutions, scholars, policy makers and other stakeholder in negotiating more equitable and successful research and heritage policies in the future.


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