A Reflection on Native American Intellectual Property Issues

by Gabrielle Garcia
Published April 14, 2021


After watching the “Native American Intellectual Property Issues” webinar, the fourth in a five-part series regarding the Protocols of Native American Materials, several themes from the discussion between the speakers from the Passamaquoddy People Project stood out to me:

  1. Trust building and engagement with communities of origin
  2. Communities of origin being formally recognized as intellectual property rights owners and dictating use and attribution protocols
  3. The power of collections when accessible to and interacted with by communities of origin

These three themes are particularly relevant to the work being done at Lambda Archives with materials relating to San Diego’s LGBTQ community. While the concepts noted above are translatable to a variety of communities, it’s important to note that the Indigenous specificity discussed in the webinar does not directly apply to non-indigenous minority communities in the so-called United States. The central concept of community trust helps to destabilize capitalist and colonial notions of hierarchy, ownership, and privatization that have been embedded in library and archival institutions in this country.

While trust building is vital for all library and archival institutions, it is especially key to a community archives that focuses on an underrepresented group. For the case of San Diego’s LGBTQ community—consisting of a variety of people from different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds—trust building must extend to the most marginalized community members: Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, poor and low income folks, folks experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and their many intersections. Trust building for LASD could look like specific intellectual property rights attribution and use protocols made in collaboration with community members, having Spanish (and/or other relevant local languages) translations available for English materials or making materials in non-English languages more accessible, incorporating community input on metadata and finding aids for materials, among other methods. Maintaining these relationships over time and generations strengthens community trust and continuity, especially with the evolution of LGBTQ terminology over the past several decades alone.

Allowing communities of origin to dictate cultural protocols and have intellectual property rights over their materials both disrupts colonial standards and uses present copyright laws intentionally in favor of communities that these laws typically disenfranchise. I believe incorporating cultural protocols brings discourse concerning the use, legacy, and existence of copyright laws to the forefront, especially now when the concept of abolishing damaging state institutions is gaining more prominence and awareness. 

All these trust building efforts allow for more powerful and intimate interactions by community members with collections. When community members have historically been denied their history and culture through erasure, exclusion, and fabrication, engaging with cultural and historical materials generates deeper connection. Speaking from my personal experience as a Cuban-American lesbian, interacting with lesbian-related materials from the archives—and discovering a poster that focused on supporting Cuban lesbians who left imprisonment in Cuba only to be incarcerated in the US—brought me an intimate joy and strengthened my link to my community. While my experience is only one example, the Archives has the potential to truly cultivate intra-community bonds and life-saving connections. Representation—not in the lofty sense of media representation—by and for community members in the preservation of history and culture has the power to combat damaging colonial and capitalist erasure and exploitation.

Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.