Freedom of Speech and National Heritage

It has been reported that when Dr. Sarah Parcak, world-renowned United States archaeologist, received funding from the National Geographic Society to conduct research at Point Rosee, Newfoundland, she was required to sign a gag-order on her potential findings (known in the world of business as a ‘non-disclosure agreement’).


Point Rosee contains a possible second historical Norse settlement in Newfoundland. The first Norse settlement discovered and subject of continuing research at L’Anse aux Meadows has significantly extended the world’s understanding of Norse explorations in Canada and North America.


Dr. Parcak led a dig to investigate a possible second Norse settlement at Point Rosee. Later, Dr. Parcak declined an opportunity to tell the citizens of Point Rosee what her team had learned at the dig. The information that had been unearthed by the dig in their landscape had been ‘bought’ by a foreign corporation. Strangely, the National Geographic Society with the strong roots of Graham Bell and the Grosvenors in Canada’s Maritimes, were keeping the heritage of that region from Canadians. Dr. Parcak also declined to reveal any of what they had learned of that valuable national heritage through an interview with “Saltscapes”, a reputable east coast magazine.


So it seems that a foreign funding agent was able to ‘buy’ Canadian national heritage and s(t)eal it away from the Canadians on the land. But it also was global heritage that was sealed away from the global citizenry. Sealed away by a significant contributor to global knowledge that felt it necessary to profit from a global researcher. Was that really different from smuggling dinosaur fossils across the border?



Canada is still dependent on international cooperation in research and intellectual developments. The US also is dependent on international cooperation in research and access to primary evidence. Other members of her team on the Point Rosee dig included Dr. Birgitta Wallace, Canadian expert on Norse explorations, New Brunswick expert on seeds, Dr. Kevin Leonard, Martha Drake and a dozen other researchers.

Canada would be intellectually much poorer without the research power of our neighbour. But some of us thought that a new ethical position had been taken by the US on the issue of national ‘ownership’ of primary evidence and of intellectual products from shared research activities. The US stopped removing primary evidence from Mexico many decades ago. Before that, they ‘stole’ any primary evidence that their search parties found. Apparently the moral position on intellectual products from cooperative research has not yet found a cooperative solution.


How should Canadians continue to encourage cooperation in research with other countries but with safeguards to ensure that primary evidence and intellectual products from that work will be available, without condition, globally?


We should have international agreements that support publication of our heritage information just as we need such agreements for economic development and exchange.


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