Social and bureaucratic contours of ethnobiological intellectual property among the Xavante (A’uwẽ)

WELCH, James R. - Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Traditional peoples’ intellectual property rights are central to ethical ethnobiological research. Despite important recent advances in the recognition and protection of these rights in Brazil and elsewhere, ethnocentric assumptions regarding the collectivity or individuality of ethnobiological knowledge have resulted in mechanisms, such as informed consent, which do not necessarily protect knowledge holders in ways consistent with their own cultural values. I illustrate this problem by comparing informed consent requirements of the Brazilian National Institute of Historical and Artistic Patrimony (IPHAN) with the social contours of ethnobiological intellectual property among the indigenous Xavante (A’uwẽ), one of over 300 Indigenous ethnic groups recognized in the country and which do not necessarily share same values or worldviews. I highlight how Xavante knowledge regarding plants and animals used in medicine, food, and technology is often considered the proprietary knowledge of distinct groups of people, such as men, women, age sets, moieties, and other sodalities. The current informed consent model used in Brazil, whereby researchers seek advanced permission from individuals and/or villages or communities to access and publish ethnobiological information, is inconsistent with the diverse configurations of intellectual property rights recognized within Xavante society.