We know that First Nations in BC and across Turtle Island had sophisticated trade routes, including the famous Grease Trails in BC, prior to contact. This economic activity allowed Nations to thrive in harsh conditions and diversify their assets, as it were, to ensure the wellbeing of their communities.
But since contact, Western trade activity largely excludes First Nations as partners despite some First Nations goods being in high demand. Various companies have stolen the intellectual property of nations by co-opting their traditional designs and products, without any revenue sharing or acknowledgement for First Nations. Intellectual property legislation does not address Indigenous traditional knowledge, much less protocols and data sovereignty for Nations looking to protect their cultural expressions from exploitation.
While some progress has been made in international trade agreements, such as the CUSMA (the new NAFTA), which allows for tariff-free trade of Indigenous artisanal goods, operationalizing these policies has been slow. Indeed, the Jay Treaty, which is meant to allow for free inter-tribal, cross-border trade, has been implemented in the United States, but is not recognized in Canada. These inefficiencies in policy operationalization, combined with barriers to enter trade markets and to pursue economic development in general, contribute to dampening not only First Nations economies, but the non-Indigenous Canadian economy as whole.
Listen to Merle Alexander (QC) and Wayne Garnons-Williams explain the legal ramifications of the lack of culturally sensitive IP legislation in Canada, international trends in Indigenous trade networks and navigating inter-tribal intellectual property issues.