Working better for indigenous cultural heritage

Feb 13, 2015

SFU-based international research group convenes conference on how higher education stakeholders could collaborate better on indigenous cultural heritage.

The Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Program, a Simon Fraser University-based international research group, will put higher education’s attention to indigenous research ethics under the microscope on Feb. 19 and 20.

Through 15 community-driven projects, IPinCH, a federally funded research group, has nurtured negotiations on indigenous intellectual property issues between institutions and communities worldwide. These negotiations address consent, rights to research data and much more.

IPinCH has invited a wide array of higher education stakeholders engaged in indigenous heritage and culture to the Working Better Together conference. University and college researchers, educators, community experts, policymakers, administrators and government representatives will come together at the two-day conference at Vancouver’s Listel Hotel to explore the current state of indigenous research ethics in higher education.

Conference participants will include representatives from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research’s Institute for Aboriginal Research, the National Panel on Research Ethics and the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research. These organizations oversee national research policy and funding.

Together they will ponder this key question: What more can universities and colleges do to better ensure their research collaborations with indigenous peoples are reciprocal and respectful?

Kelly Bannister, conference chair and IPinCH steering committee member, feels post secondary institutions could do better. “Research ethics is often interpreted and implemented as a set of rules to follow,” explains Bannister. “But at the core, ethics is about how to treat one another; it is about relationships.

Bannister notes that higher education’s interpretation and implementation of new guidelines for ethical conduct in research involving Aboriginal peoples varies nationally, and so does their success due to many practical and policy hurdles. Canada’s Tri-Council granting agencies, which fund higher education’s research activity, amended its national Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans in 2010 and again in 2014.

The Tri-Council policy statement says, much research involving First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada has been conducted by non-indigenous researchers, often without significant input from indigenous participants or the consideration of local worldviews or community benefits.

SFU President Andrew Petter, under whose stewardship the university emphasizes respect for Aboriginal peoples and cultures, will co-open the conference with Coast Salish Elder Victor Guerin. SFU VP-Research Joy Johnson will co-close the conference with Coast Salish Elder Florence James and an acknowledgement of its importance. "Research ethics is a shared responsibility - we all have a role to play. I would like to thank IPinCH for providing the rare opportunity to bring everyone together in open conversation around these complex and sensitive issues," says Johnson.

The keynote speakers are Marlene Brant Castellano, Community Co-chair of the Aboriginal Council of Queen’s University, and Willie Ermine, a First Nations University of Canada professor. Castellano, one of Canada’s leading indigenous policy experts, will trace her involvement with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in developing indigenous research ethics policy.

Ermine, a philosopher and educator, will discuss a concept he popularized in indigenous research ethics and used as a framework for collaborating across differences. It’s called ethical space.


Kristen Dobbin, IPinCH communications, 778.782.9682, (email best)
Kelly Bannister, (before Feb. 17), or text (email or texting best)
George Nicholas, IPinCH director, 778.782.5709, (email best)
Carol Thorbes, University Communications, 778.782.3035,