Section 2: Ways to Indigenize Research

Copyright and Intellectual Property

When accessing Indigenous knowledge for research in the arts, cultural practices, scientific knowledge, kinship and social systems, ceremonial practices, and other forms of oral Indigenous knowledge, it is important to review and understand copyright and intellectual property laws (both domestic and international). This is to ensure the intellectual property and copyright of Indigenous knowledge keepers is protected and to identify any collective community rights, as defined by the Indigenous community. For instance, many research projects include a project logo – an image or illustration to represent the spirit and intent of the research. Some researchers use existing images, while others commission specific designs. If the researcher is using Indigenous artwork, then copyright and intellectual property rights have to be affirmed prior to publishing the research.

In the Western academic tradition, copyright is used to protect written resources produced by a person (or team). However, such copyright laws are problematic for Indigenous cultures. Within many Indigenous knowledge systems, oral permission is required before accessing cultural materials or practices such as legends, stories, songs, designs, crests, photographs, audiovisual materials, and dances. These practices and materials are owned and transferred by specific individuals, families, or groups within their respective Nations. Permission to use them is contextual to the researcher’s relationship with the owners, the intent of the research, and how the practices or materials will be shared. Permission may be specific to a single use; if you are adjusting your research for a different context, then permission will need to be secured again.

Protocols that exist around the use of Indigenous resources are specific to place, people, and time; hence, there is no generic code of conduct when working with Indigenous Peoples. Each First Nations, Métis, and Inuit community will have principles, practices, systems, and processes that flow from their community’s respective laws and traditions. This does not mean that Indigenous knowledge systems and art cannot be used, but researchers need to seek permission and properly cite and situate the knowledge used in their research before using Indigenous knowledge systems and expressions. Learning about these protocols from the community you are working with will contribute to the content and context of the research partnership agreement. Researchers need to build connections with Indigenous communities and knowledge keepers to seek oral permission. This may be challenging at times, and it may take time, but it is the responsibility of all researchers. If you or your institution has not obtained permission, it is important to investigate and secure permission from relevant individuals, families, authorities, agencies, and organizations.

Researchers should review and understand domestic and international laws and declarations to ensure the copyright and intellectual property rights of Indigenous artists and knowledge keepers are protected, as well as any collective community rights defined by the Indigenous community.

There is currently no single source of information about Indigenous Peoples and copyright and intellectual property. There are, however, several resources that provide practical guidance and tools for researchers about traditional and contemporary arts in all disciplines: visual, music and song, dance, theatre, storytelling, and new media. In a 20-minute JCUCairns TEDx talk from 2016, Terri Janke, an Indigenous lawyer and activist from Australia, discusses the potential of collaboration. True Tracks: Create a Culture of Innovation with Indigenous Knowledge documents a way to acknowledge and respect Indigenous cultural expression and knowledge through collaboration, consent, attribution, and protection.


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Pulling Together: A Guide for Researchers, Hiłḵ̓ala Copyright © 2021 by Dianne Biin; Deborah Canada; John Chenoweth; and Lou-ann Neel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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