Did you know that the United Nations is in the midst of a conference to discuss safeguarding endangered elements of cultural heritage?
Did you know that Canada didn't submit anything for consideration?
Yesterday (Sept. 29), in Abu Dhabi, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) began discussing how to protect "intangible heritage" in its Intergovernmental Committe for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, struck in 2003 to take an inventory of cultural activities that help define a nation.
"It will describe intangible heritage elements on the Urgent Safeguarding List and the Representative List, as well as select good safeguarding practices," says the relevant UNESCO news web page.
Reading through the material, written in the worst kind of bureaucratic brain-mush, what quickly becomes clear is not that there is any realistic way of ensuring survival of elements inside a living culture (by nature of being a living organism, it is in a process of constant evolution, which implies an element of birth and death), the list of submissions by different countries is a fascinating catalogue of what each nation's bureaucrats consider important.
According to the BBC's news feed, the meeting today officially entered the Argentinian tango on the heritage list, as it goes through a total of 111 submissions.
Here is a section from UNESCO's guidelines on "inventorying cultural heritage:"
Intangible cultural heritage takes many forms. The Convention explains that it may be expressed in a number of domains, including but not limited to:
- Oral traditions and expressions including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
- Performing arts;
- Social practices, rituals and festive events;
- Knowledge and practice about nature and the universe;
- Traditional craftsmanship.
It goes without saying that many elements of intangible cultural heritage might belong to one or more of these domains.
The main purposes of the Convention are to safeguard such heritage, to ensure respect for it, to raise awareness about its importance and to provide for international cooperation and assistance in these fields. Countries that ratify the Convention (known as States Parties) take on the obligation to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage present on their territories. At an international level, the Convention establishes two Lists, the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The goal of these Lists is to call attention to those elements of intangible cultural heritage that are representative of human creativity and cultural diversity and especially those in need of urgent safeguarding.
The Convention focuses on the role of communities and groups in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. It is concerned with processes and conditions rather than products, placing emphasis on living heritage that is performed by people, often collectively, and communicated through living experience. It deals with heritage that communities themselves deem important, and strives to contribute to the promotion of creativity and diversity, and to the well-being of communities, groups, and society at large.
I want to remind you that Canada didn't submit anything. Imagine how Tanya Tagaq and her fellow Inuit throat-singers must feel, not to mention all the other custodians and practitioners of arts specific to Canadian heritage. To be fair, the United States also appears not to have any submissions present, nor do several western European countries. Why?
Despite daily reminders of how Canada continues to neglect cultural heritage on so many levels, our politicians and bureaucrats find it easier to send body bags to First Nations communities than to give their cultural output a place on the world stage.
Perhaps the body bags were a metaphor...
And that doesn't even begin to address our country's post-colonial heritage, which includes Acadian culture, Quebec folk traditions, East Coast fiddling, Métis communities, and, well, the list goes on and on.
Perhaps someone involved in federal culture-policy decisions could explain Canada's absence on the UNESCO list?
The original list of submissions, which grew by 21 after it was posted on the web, includes photos and video clips. It's a fascinating trip around the world, and a valuable archival resource. It's great that UNESCO saw fit to make this information public.
Here is one of the video submissions, on Vietnam's Nha Nhac, or court music:
Here, just because I can't leave it alone, are sisters Karin and Kathy Kettler, who are from Kangiqsualujjuak, Nunavik, showing off authentic Inuit throat singing at the 2008 Richmond Folk Festival: