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Language as Part of Cultural Heritage

For the M...ori, their language is a part of their taonga "treasures," which is how they refer to their cultural heritage. For Native North Americans, languages are part of the Sovereignty Bundle. These conceptualizations are not only statements of principles, but also have significant legal consequences. For the M...ori, the inclusion of language among the taonga has meant being able to place a language claim before the Waitangi Tribunal in charge of investigating cases related to the application of the Treaty of Waitangi between the M...ori and the British Crown. They successfully argued that in not providing active support to the M...ori language, the Crown had not fulfilled its duty of protecting M...ori possessions (see also the article by Solomon and Watson in this issue). For Native Americans, use of their languages is a significant element, as proof of cultural cohesion, vis-à-vis the granting of full tribal status by the U.S. federal government. Australian Aborigines officially define "indigenous cultural and intellectual property" -- on which basis they stake legal claims -- as including designs, traditional food resources, traditional and contemporary cultural expressions, rituals, legends, folk tales, knowledge of flora and fauna, and language. In South Africa, the right to culture and language is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which states that "every person shall have the right to use his language and to participate in the cultural life of his people."

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