President's Dream Colloquium on Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage, Spring 2015

Colloquium Course

This graduate seminar offers a unique opportunity to explore in depth key issues pertaining to Indigenous cultural heritage, from local, national, and international perspectives. Drawing on the expertise and experience of some of the leading scholars and practioners, the range of topics discussed will be wide ranging, including but not limited to ethics, law, policy creation and implementation, the nature and political economy of knowledge, inter-governmental relations, and much more. The seminar will be of interest to graduate students and advanced undergraduate students from many different fields.

All classes will take place on the Burnaby campus on Thursday mornings, 9:30 am–12:30 pm, so that all students can also choose to attend lectures for both Spring 2015 colloquia. There will also be a class dinner with the speaker after each public lecture.

Colloquium Structure and Seminar Schedule
This colloquium is organized by six broad themes relating to Indigenous cultural heritage. Following the introductory seminar in week 1, two weeks are devoted to the exploration of each theme, with a seminar organized around a discussion of readings selected by the speaker and colloquium organizers followed a week later by the guest speaker’s presentation and a discussion session.

Week 1: Introduction and Orientation
In addition to reviewing the structure and expectations of the course, in this introductory seminar we will address core concepts, key questions, and critical issues to be explored in more depth through the course of the colloquium. Key questions to be addressed include: What is heritage, and where/how is it expressed? What do we mean by Indigenous cultural heritage? And why the need to protect Indigenous cultural heritage?

Weeks 2 +3: Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage: Ethics, Policy, and Practice
What are the ethical challenges involved when different value systems intersect in the realm of heritage? What is required to develop and sustain ethical research practices and cultural integrity? Our focus during this part of the course will be on applied research ethics and the need for developing a “dialogic ethos” in approaches to cultural heritage. How can we develop and adopt approaches that give voice to and respect the standpoints and worldviews of other stakeholders in developing ethical policy and practice, and that assist in the resolution of conflicts among interested parties?

Weeks 3 + 4: Heritage and the Law: Customary, Vernacular, and Legal Approaches to Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage
In weeks 3 and 4 we explore the role of law, defined broadly, in defining and protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. Key questions addressed include: How is cultural heritage defined in different legal traditions, including through formal Western legal approaches as well as what are often described as informal (customary or vernacular) approaches to law? What are the limits of law in defining and protecting Indigenous cultural heritage?

Weeks 5 + 6: Heritage and Knowledge: Decolonizing the Research Process
Within the realm of heritage research and management there persists a clear degree of “scientific colonialism” that has served to separate Indigneous peoples from their heritage, with little of the benefits from research flowing to them. Efforts to decolonize the academy, including those disciplines most involved in heritage, require a shift in focus from postcolonial theory to postcolonial practice. During these we will examine efforts to decolonize the research process and explore why some approaches are successful and others are not.

Weeks 7 + 8: “Who Owns Native Culture”: Intellectual Property Issues Associated with Indigenous Cultural Heritage Protection
One of the major challenges Indigenous peoples face is the appropriation and commodification of their culture, which is often treated as part of the public domain and available for free use by all. During this part of the colloquium we will explore the relationship between tangible and intangible heritage and the social, cultural, and economic harms caused by inappropriate or unwelcome use by others. We will also examine various strategies to counter inappropriate or unwelcome use of Indigenous cultural heritage.

Weeks 9 + 10: Heritage and Community Values, Benefits, and Sustainability
For many Indigenous groups, heritage is an essential element of a person’s or a community’s well-being and worldview. Key questions addressed in this part of the course include: How are the values embedded in land and custom maintained in the face of the increasing economic or other challenges that Indigenous societies face? And how may successful and/or desired community initiatives (e.g., cultural tourism, tribal heritage management policies) be developed and sustained?

Weeks 11 + 12: Heritage and Politics: Sovereignty, Jurisdiction, and the Protection of Indigenous Culture
This session examines the politics of heritage at the government-to-government level and explores the question of what heritage policies look like when created by Indigenous peoples themselves. Other related topics include cultural rights, legal and customary frameworks, human rights, sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, the free market, open access, and other complex and often problematic matters that arise when groups claim special collective or exclusionary relationships to their own or someone else’s heritage.

Week 13: Protecting Indigenous Heritage… in Retrospect

The concluding seminar meeting reviews and assesses the various topics covered, and provides an opportunity to debrief. Students will share the responsibility of summarizing each of the seminar presentations/discussions.


Course Requirements, Objectives, and Grading
This graduate seminar offers an in-depth exploration of the heritage-related themes provided by the guest speaker series, assigned readings, and discussion, with assessment based upon written assignments, quality (and quantity) of participation in seminar discussions, and demonstration of understanding. Given the world-class stature of the speakers, they are expected to engage with a well-informed and questioning group of graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

The primary objectives of the course are to:

  • to become familiar with and demonstrate understanding of indigenous heritage expressions and values, and of the challenges of protecting them;
  • to develop and hone critical thinking and writing skills in evaluating or expressing ideas about both the general topic, and the more specific themes examined in the seminar;
  • to relate information and perspectives provided by the lectures and assigned readings to other situations and case studies in order to see their broader applicability in the student’s respective area of study;
  • to appreciate the gap between theory and practice, including the difficulties of developing effective and satisfying heritage preservation (relating to sacred sites, language, customary practices, intellectual property, and so on); and
  • to conclude the course not with the answers to everything, but with knowing what the important questions are.

Minimally, students are required to attend classes, to participate in seminar discussions, and to complete all assigned work on time. Late work is penalized 5% a day. Extensions will be granted for documented medical situations.

  • Participation (up to 5 pts each seminar) / 30%
  • Essays (6): a short, thoughtful (i.e., critical) essay (4-5 pages, plus references) on each theme covered, as informed by speaker’s presentation and assigned readings, is due at the completion of each theme / 30%
  • Discussion leaders (each student will, with several others, be responsible to developing questions/leading discussion for one seminar ) / 10%
  • Final Paper (20–25 pages). By Week 5, students will submit for review and approval, a prospectus outlining the topic, along with an outline, and a preliminary bibliography; the subject matter is open but must relate, broadly or specifically, to one or more themes covered in the course. Due one week after last class. / 30%

Note: The final grade in the colloquium course will be a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory.  A "Satisfactory" grade will have no effect on your cumulative GPA.

The members of the Oversight Committee will share the responsibility for grading assignments, evaluating quality of seminar participation, and otherwise evaluating student-learning outcomes. In doing so, the committee will consider each member’s areas of expertise as to the papers they will evaluate. The guest speakers are not involved in student evaluation.


A complete reading list will be included in the full syllabus at the beginning of the semester, which includes readings for each of the pre-seminar meetings. Each guest speaker will assign 2–3 readings in advance of their presentation, which will generally be drawn from their own writing, but may also include articles or reports that they consider essential to the topic. The Oversight Committee will insure that the readings cover all key aspects of the seminar topic. Readings are to be complete in advance of the seminar for which they are assigned to aid in generating questions for the speaker and in guiding discussion between students, other participants, and the guest lecturer. Participation in class discussions is expected to demonstrate awareness of/information from the readings.

In addition to readings assigned for each theme, some more general background readings will be drawn from the list below:

  • Brown, M., 2003, Who Owns Native Culture? Harvard University Press.
  • Bell, C., and V. Napoleon (eds), 2008, First Nations Cultural Heritage and Law, UBC Press.
  • Bell, C., and R. Paterson (eds), 2009, Protection of First Nations Heritage, UBC Press.
  • Geismar, H. 2013. Treasured Possessions: Indigenous Interventions into Cultural and Intellectual Property. Duke University Press.
  • Riley, M., (ed). 2004, Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights: Legal Obstacles and Innovative Solutions. AltaMira Press.
  • Smith, L. 2006, Uses of Heritage. Routledge.


Some Advice
There are a substantial number of readings for this course (100–150 pages/week), which is necessary to give you an adequate sense of, and appreciation for the immense literature on the subjects.

Beyond all of that, please consider this advice—The best anthropology course I ever took assigned far more readings than were even possible (2–3 entire books each week). The instructor started the course by telling us that there was always going to be far more to read in our field than we could possibly have time for, and encouraged us to develop ways to cope with this fact.

Many of us formed small groups and split up the readings—someone would read one book thoroughly and the others would read the introduction in depth and skimmed the rest. Then we got together for an hour during the week to share the important points. It really worked and also developed collegial relations, taught us the important skill of skimming, and prepared us to talk sensibly about the material in class.

There is far less reading in this class, but the lesson is similar.

— George Nicholas


Applications for the Colloquium course will be accepted until all class spots are taken.

* Grad-PDC-Application-2015.pdf
Graduate students course application
* Undergrad-PDC-App-2015.pdf
Undergrad students course application
* Poster Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage-email.pdf
Poster in lower resolution (smaller file size)
* Poster Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage.pdf
Poster in higher resolution (larger file size)

Admission to the Course

All SFU graduate students and senior undergraduates may register with permission of their departments. Graduate students in the following departments have been pre-approved to take this course for credit towards their degrees:

  • Archaeology
  • Linguistics
  • Resource and Environmental Management

Enrolment in the colloquium will be capped at 20 registrants, and admission will be by application only.

Applications will be accepted until the course is full. (This website will be updated when the course is full.)