Dr. George Nicholas


A foundational principle of Dr. George Nicholas’ work with and for Indigenous communities over the past 30 years has been the belief that heritage is a basic human right and that Indigenous heritage is inseparably linked to issues of identity and rights and title.  His journey to decolonize archaeology and other related heritage studies began while teaching at the SFU campus located on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Indian Reserve in Kamloops (1991–2005) and as founder and Director of SFU’s Indigenous Archaeology program there.

While in the Kamloops program, Dr. Nicholas sought daily to right imbalances inherent in Western investigations of cultural heritage through a variety of community-engaged actions – all of which had significant positive impacts on the very cultural fabric of Secwépemc communities. He did this by being an extraordinary teacher, mentor, and student advisor, devoting countless hours to educating community members about their archaeological heritage and perhaps most importantly, empowering Indigenous students to embrace the breadth and depth of their own heritage.  His contribution to the Kamloops program has left a lasting legacy within Secwépemc territory, with many students that Dr. Nicholas taught or was a graduate supervisor of employed as teachers, administrators, cultural managers, archaeologists, researchers—all working to promote, protect and manage their heritage. 

In the 1990s Dr. Nicholas began publishing about the injustices inherent in the discipline of archaeology. While relatively commonplace today, such publications were rare at that time. Among his early publications, his co-edited volume At A Crossroads: Archaeology and First Peoples in Canada (1997) is perhaps most noteworthy. By allowing Indigenous peoples to have a voice, and to loudly and clearly advocate for that voice, this volume had a huge impact on practicing archaeologists and Indigenous peoples around the world. Since that time, Dr. Nicholas has published countless articles (academic and popular) with Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues, and given as many talks about valuing Indigenous heritage. The most recent is the ground-breaking publication "Recommendations for Decolonizing British Columbia’s Heritage-Related Processes and Legislation”, which he co-authored with colleagues from the Sto:lo Nation.

While continuing his connection with many Secwépemc and other First Nations communities, in the early 2000s, Dr. Nicholas broadened his focus to include Indigenous communities around the world. This is most stunningly reflected in his extraordinary vision to create the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project. For eight years (2008 – 2016), he brought together a team of over 50 academics, heritage professionals, policy makers, and community members from seven countries and 25 partner organizations to explore the rights, values, and responsibilities associated with material culture, cultural knowledge, and the practice of heritage research. Among the community partners were Indigenous representatives from cultural groups within North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, and Kyrgyzstan. The IPinCH project has had deep positive and lasting impacts on Indigenous communities around the world. In 2013 he received the first-ever Partnership Award from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. It could be argued that Dr. Nicholas, alongside his Indigenous collaborators, teachers, and friends, has contributed in significant ways to Indigenous heritage sovereignty globally. For decades, he has devoted his time, his intelligence, and his heart to the many aspects of social justice embedded in issues surrounding Indigenous heritage.

Highlights of collaborations and projects


From 2008-2016 I directed the major international research initiative "Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage: Theory, Practice, Policy" co-developed with Dr. Julie Hollowell (Indiana University) and Dr. Kelly Bannister (University of Victoria) and funded by SSHRCs MCRI program. Our team of 50 scholars and 25 partnering organizations worked to explore and facilitate fair and equitable exchanges of knowledge relating to archaeology. The project was concerned with the theoretical, ethical, and practical implications of commodification, appropriation, and other flows of knowledge about the past, and with how these may affect communities, researchers, and other stakeholders. In 2013, the IPinCH project was awarded the inaugural “Partnership Award” by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Please visit our web site to learn more the project and opportunities for student fellowships and training.

IPinCH Project Link:

Current research projects

2019–2021 Co-Principal Investigator, “The Ethics of Studying Indigenous North American Ancient DNA: Moving from Theories to Practices.” (Chip Colwell, PI). National Science Foundation. 

2018–2022 Co-Applicant and head of North American team, “International Research Network for Indigenous Studies and Cultural Diversity” (Hirofumi Kato, PI). Core-to-Core Program Advanced Research Network funded by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Video highlights


Importance of archaeologists

Dr. George Nicholas tells his area of research and the importance of archaeologists.

My TEDx talk: Why Heritage is not just about ‘Things’

On September 19-21 2014, the Tłı̨chǫ Government, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and the Canadian Polar Commission hosted a multi-event symposium called Įłàà Katı̀ to advance the understanding and uses of Traditional Knowledge. 

One key part of the symposium was TEDx Yellowknife, an independently organized TED event on traditional knowledge held at the Explorer Inn in Yellowknife.

The Shepard Krech III Lecture for 2017. Haffenreffer Museum, Brown University: Activism, Archaeology, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage in British Columbia

In this talk, George Nicholas discusses opportunities to move heritage research and management in more satisfying ways through a discussion of local and international collaborations developed by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project.

SFU President’s Lecture Series: Culture, Community, and Collaboration: New Directions for Protecting Indigenous Heritage

George Nicholas reviews debates over the "ownership" of Indigenous heritage and provides examples of new research practices that are both more ethical and more effective. These collaborative research models, in which the community leads the research, highlight important new directions in protecting Indigenous heritage.

SFU Research Masterclass Series: Decolonizing Archaeology - In Theory and Practice

 (interviewed by Jenna Walsh)