November is Native American Heritage Month here in the U.S. As we celebrate and explore nalbinding as it is found around the world and in many cultures, it does behoove us to remember to have a care that our appreciation does not tip over into appropriation. Many of the cultures that produce nalbinding suffer from the effects of colonialism. Many of the stitches are universally used around the world, but some of the motifs, colorwork, object shaping, and descriptive words have sacred meanings.
Some places have put formal protections in place. For example:
The US Department of Interior’s Indian Arts & Crafts Board provides clarification regarding the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) which prohibits misrepresentation by falsely suggesting an item advertised for sale is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization in the marketing of Indian art and craft products within the United States. The penalties for even a first violation are rather steep. https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act
The Association of American Indian Affairs non-profit organization produced a flyer regarding the Indian Arts and Crafts Act that can be seen at: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02ekRx564whprCtNLdhwEpFX7TafrKNQZbEtRgjx96k4yLMztT9bP2LxHPQGvnKv36l&id=100064589357930&mibextid=Nif5oz
They also provide links to a few of the many federal, state, and Tribal laws applying to culturally sensitive items: https://www.indian-affairs.org/repatriationlaws.html#NMAI
On the other side of the world, the Noken of Western Papua, Indonesia have been inscribed in 2012 (7.COM) on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. https://ich.unesco.org/en/USL/noken-multifunctional-knotted-or-woven-bag-handcraft-of-the-people-of-papua-00619
The National Cultural Commission and Investment Promotion Authority of Papua New Guinea issued a joint press release entitled “Caution on the Misuse of Papua New Guinea Traditional Motifs and/or Designs from Traditional Bilum on Textile and Material Fabric.” https://www.facebook.com/107862945033802/photos/a.116069377546492/181536697666426/?type=3 “Furthermore, it must be made known to the public that “bilum-weaving” is a reserved activity under the Reserved Activities List. This means that only Papua New Guineans can weave bilums and sell bilums in the country. Local communities into bilum weaving should begin to take ownership of the bilum weaving knowledge and skills within thier own communities and begin to document their traditional design.”
In general, the formal protections relate to the sale of cultural heritage items. Nonetheless it behoves us as we learn more of how nalbinding is used around the world, the cominalites of stitches and uses, to understand its importance to many cultures, so that we may better appreciate it without appropriating items of cultural and sacred significance.