Two letters about Who Owns Native Culture? published in the New York Times Book Review (Oct. 5, 2003) reveal the perils of judging a book by a review.

The first letter, sent by Robert Jereski, objects to a sentence quoted by the book's reviewer, Richard Shweder, which questions the importance of ongoing litigation related to the Washington Redskins trademark. The sentence, necessarily quoted out of context by the reviewer, is actually directed to an unsupported assertion by a legal scholar that the Redskins name causes "irreparable, substantial harm" to American Indians and that it puts their cultural survival in doubt. I argue that this claim is wildly exaggerated—an abuse of language, in fact—when seen against the real challenges faced by Native Americans over the past five centuries.

For the record, I find the Redskins name obnoxious and see no reason why it should retain its status as a protected mark.  It must also be said that few Native American leaders express interest in the Redskins case. They have more urgent problems to worry about: land and water rights, religious freedom, substance abuse, and reservation unemployment. Citizens who care about Native American rights should direct their attention away from bread-and-circuses issues like the Redskins trademark to the question of how the Department of the Interior has managed to "misplace" at least 13 billion dollars in mineral leases and other trust-derived fees that should have been distributed to Indian tribes in compliance with federal law. Unfortunately, much more ink is spilled over the Redskins case than the criminal negligence of federal officials and the loss to Native Americans of badly needed income that is rightfully theirs.

The second writer, Pamela Kraft, concludes that my book supports the appropriation of indigenous knowledge by pharmaceutical companies. Even a glance at the book shows this to be false—the exact opposite, in fact, of what the book actually argues. Although I do express doubts about some extreme claims of exploitation made by NGOs opposed to bioprospecting, I document the grave injustice that could be inflicted on native communities if they continue to be denied protection by the world's intellectual property laws. Who Owns Native Culture? outlines in considerable detail the difficulty of reconciling the global system of patents and copyrights with the rights of indigenous communities. People of good will may disagree about appropriate solutions, but there is little question that indigenous peoples are potential victims of an approach to intellectual property that is spiralling out of control, thereby threatening the creative freedom of all citizens, Native and non-Native alike.

As always, I welcome constructive criticism of my work. Apparently I may have been naive to expect that critics will feel obliged to read the book, or at least browse the table of contents, before registering objections.

                                                                                        Michael F. Brown