WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
Becoming an entrepreneur is not an easy route
to take. But when you’re an indigenous woman,
it can be even tougher. Sarah Morgan interviews
bold women about their experiences and the
role IP can play in empowerment.
he Native American story is one of
land loss and the extreme suffering
that came with colonisation. It’s
important to acknowledge the truth of
these events, but also not to forget other stories—
those of economic self-sufficiency and creative
An important part of the Native American story
is how they have fought to protect their cultural
expressions and traditions from exploitation. Penobscot
woman Theresa Secord is just one of many examples of
indigenous women who have led these efforts.
In the mid-1800s, indigenous women began
taking their woven baskets to coastal Maine resort
towns in the summer to sell to tourists, but learning
how to weave subsequently waned in popularity.
Now, Secord is playing a vital role in the resurrection
of one of what is one of the oldest known Native
Speaking to me before heading out to a major art
market in the US, Secord describes basket weaving
as a family tradition, beginning with her great
grandmother. Secord is a member of the Penobscot
nation, a federally recognised tribe in Maine.
After founding the Maine Indian Basketmakers
Alliance 25 years ago, she helped bring forward
a new generation of basket makers. The average
age of those involved in basket weaving fell from
63 to 43, while the overall number of participants grew.
She’s spent a long time advocating for the art form,
and feels that “too often, we undervalue ourselves”.
“Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that women
of my generation and earlier are very undervalued
when it comes to their rights to IP,” she says.
Hers is a similar story to that of Sámi woman
Solveig Ballo, who I speak to while she’s on a fourand
a-half-hour drive, travelling between her offices
in northern Scandinavia where she supports nearly
50 Sámi businesses and entrepreneurs with advice
Hailing from a region that stretches across the
northern part of Scandinavia and Russia’s Kola
Peninsula, the indigenous Sámi people are perhaps
best known for their reindeer herding. But the
community has a rich culture of arts and handmade
crafts, such as Joik—the folk music of the Sámi.
But young people are moving to bigger cities and
abandoning traditional ways of life.
For the women who stay the biggest challenge,
according to Ballo, is daring to take the bold step to
become a full-time entrepreneur.
“This applies to everyone, but it’s especially true
in small communities. It takes a lot of courage to
say: ‘I’ve made this and I want to sell it for the right
price’,” she adds.
Building a new culture
All the women I speak to offer the same story: IP
can play a crucial role in developing the businesses
of indigenous entrepreneurs, but there’s a lack of
understanding in their communities.
Indigenous women are often the protectors
and carriers of their cultures, and their traditional
knowledge and cultural expressions are invaluable,
says Rebecka Forsgren, a Sámi and the World
Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 2019
“They may not wish to commercialise their
culture and knowledge. However, if they do, they
should have access to the IP system and be able to
protect the IP of their innovations and creations,”
Secord and Ballo both took part in WIPO’s
training and mentoring programme for women
entrepreneurs from indigenous peoples and local
“Learning more about IP is important for
entrepreneurs here as we don’t have a culture of
protecting our services and goods and creative
expressions,” explains Ballo, who says she’s seen a lack
of understanding in how the system works and how
the Sámi people perceive the system in the community.
Forsgren adds that through WIPO’s programme,
indigenous peoples, and especially indigenous
to be in place
where the IP
WIPO 2019 Indigenous Fellow