The Case of the Zia: Looking Beyond Trademark Law To Protect Sacred Symbols
Chicago-Kent Journal of Intellectual Property, Vol. 11, 2012
28 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2011 Last revised: 29 Feb 2012
Date Written: October 22, 2011
This Article tells the story of a tribe’s fight, over the past two decades, to reclaim its sacred symbol. Members of the Zia tribe, a Native American group located near Albuquerque, New Mexico, have been using their sacred sun symbol in religious ceremonies since 1200 C.E. Today, the symbol appears on the New Mexico state flag, letterhead, and license plate, and on numerous commercial products, including motorcycles and portable toilets. The tribe claims that the state appropriated the symbol without permission in 1925, and that the continued use of the symbol by various parties dilutes its sacred meaning and disparages the Zia people. This Article considers the harms the tribe faces when outsiders appropriate its symbol and the possible solutions within current trademark law. Ultimately, this Article illustrates that, for the Zia, non-legal measures have been more effective than legal ones. The case of the Zia thus suggests that indigenous groups should look beyond trademark law in the fight to protect their sacred symbols.
Keywords: trademark law, Lanham Act, Native American law, tribal insignia, sacred symbols, intellectual property, cultural property, cultural appropriation
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