issues and experts

New guidebook helps avoid cultural appropriation

May 24, 2016

A new guidebook for designers and merchandisers, Think Before You Appropriate, can help avoid the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and reap the benefits of collaboration.

Created by members of the IPinCH Project—Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage, directed by SFU archaeology professor George Nicholas, the new guidebook defines what cultural appropriation is and explains the risks of not asking permission and not working directly with indigenous owners.

“Some product developers who have used indigenous heritage elements without permission have faced serious social media backlash, unwanted negative press, and have been forced to pull from the market at great expense,” he says.

The international IPinCH Project team has spent the past eight years exploring the rights, values, and responsibilities of material culture, cultural knowledge and the practice of heritage research.

Now, says Nicholas, the group is applying what it has learned to help both non-indigenous and indigenous designers, product developers and policy-makers make more informed decisions about their own, and others’, heritage.

For Indigenous peoples, there are significant damages when others appropriate their heritage. These include losing access to their ancestral knowledge and property, losing control over the proper care of their heritage, losing their livelihood in some cases, and losing their cultural distinctiveness and authenticity.

The IPinCH guide is intended not only to protect indigenous peoples but also to help businesses thrive through collaboration. Nicholas points out that creating more responsible and culturally aware products brings great benefits to developers and fosters innovative and mutually beneficial collaborations with Indigenous artists and communities. 

To date, IPinCH has posted more than 70 videos and a variety of reports on its website. These resources are designed to explore and explain issues related to cultural heritage and appropriation.

Wan Yee Lok, University Communications, 778.782.5987,
George Nicholas, professor, archaeology, 778.782.5709,