Northern Lights on Indigenous Intangible Heritage: a changing legal landscape in Sápmi

Writer : Anita Vaivade
Year : 2024

This article explores recent developments in legal analysis related to the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in general, and to the safeguarding of Indigenous intangible cultural heritage in particular, having the debates on the protection of Sámi intangible cultural heritage in Nordic countries as a case study. I reflect upon existing and prospective junctions of fields of law, arguing that the experiences in Nordic countries are of interest to global legal scholarship, which is continuously developing in the field of intangible cultural heritage law. I argue that there is a changing legal landscape that can be observed, where the named convention meets the protection of intellectual property rights, human rights, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and more. I ground my reflection on the observations of intangible cultural heritage related regional debates in Nordic countries—Finland, Sweden and Norway, with a particular focus on intangible cultural heritage of Sámi people and their rights, and a qualitative study of respective Nordic and Sámi legal scholarship, policymaking, reporting and litigation processes. Conversations with stakeholders involved in studied legal and policy developments have served for building a broader context for reflection. As this regional case study has repeatedly showed, advancing legal thinking and decision-making on this changing legal landscape of Indigenous intangible cultural heritage safeguarding, is taking time, and this gives space for dialogues, negotiations and exchanges.