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Asserting Tribal Sovereignty over Cultural Property: Moving Towards Protection of Genetic Material and Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous cultural property of all forms, tangible and intangible, oral and written, ancient and contemporary, is under constant threat from exploitation, theft, misrepresentation, misuse, and commodification. Current domestic law, including federal Indian law, does not sufficiently protect cultural property. [FN3] Internationally, although the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and a multitude of other international bodies are pro-posing new measures for the protection of Indigenous peoples' cultural property, these Western-law-based systems are insufficient. [FN4] Accordingly, tribes must be engaged at all levels--tribal, state, national, and international--to protect their cultural property. [FN5] However, the only realm within which Indigenous cultural property can be truly protected is within Indigenous peoples' own legal systems. Within these legal systems, Indigenous peoples exercise sovereignty and can develop laws that honor the legacy of our sacred cultural heritage through our own customary and codified laws--not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.

[FN6]Genetic material and Indigenous knowledge are significant aspects of cultural property that require special protection, especially in this biotechnology era. Scientists have sought Indigenous peoples' DNA on numerous occasions for anthropological, behavioral, medical, and genetics-mapping studies. Bioprospectors are also interested in accessing biodiverse-rich Indigenous territories to find plant, animal, and microbial *28 organisms for pharmaceut-
ical, chemical, and industrial uses. Genetically modified organisms also pose special threats to Indigenous peoples'traditional food sources, agricultural systems, health, and environment.