Indigenous groups wanting to take part in UN negotiations around laws to prevent cultural appropriation can now apply to have their travel costs covered — thanks to a donation from Australia.
Delegates from 189 countries, including Canada, were in Geneva this week as part of a specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency.
The committee has been working since 2001 to complete three pieces of international law that would expand intellectual-property regulations to protect things like Indigenous designs, dances, words and traditional medicines.
Indigenous groups, including the Assembly of First Nations, have criticized the lack of Indigenous involvement in the negotiations.
The Australian Government announced it is donating $50,000 — or $53,000 Cdn — to a fund for Indigenous groups from around the world to attend the next round of negotiations in Geneva.
The fund was created by the committee in 2005 and has raised the equivalent of $912,000 Cdn. However, it has sat empty since 2014, despite pleas from WIPO officials for member states to replenish it.
"It's very important because, of course, these are the people whose expressions and whose knowledge we are supposed to be protecting," WIPO director general Francis Gurry said.
"For some years now we have not been able to finance their participation. With this donation, it really assures us, I hope, of the possibility of ensuring the representatives of Indigenous peoples and local communities at the committee."
Switzerland has been the highest contributor to the fund, followed by Australia. South Africa, Sweden and New Zealand also donated money in the past.
Neither Canada or the United States have ever made donations.
Indigenous groups can apply to a special advisory board that oversees the fund to be apart of the next round of negotiations taking place in 2018.
About 130 Indigenous delegates have received funding from the committee to date.