"The world needs a university in which Indigenous concepts, methodologies, pedagogies, languages, and philosophies are respectfully woven into the tapestry of learning, research, scholarship, creativity, and community engagement." (University Plan 2025)

“The First Nations had been practising their own forms of government for thousands of years prior to the arrival of newcomers to Canada.” (Office of the Treaty Commissioner, Treaty essential learnings: We are all treaty people, August 2008, page 43)


“Related to Everything Under the Sky” by Danielle Kehler, mixed media with hand-beading on canvas. © Danielle Kehler. This open access work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 license. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

On this page, we have used the term Indigenous cultural heritage to mean all components of Indigenous cultures, including but not limited to: dances, artwork, designs, stories, (oral) histories, traditions, protocols, legal systems and knowledges.

There are many essential considerations and protections in different Indigenous cultures that must be respected when you are working with Indigenous cultural heritage. These protections for Indigenous cultural heritage have not been incorporated into Canadian copyright law, and so much Indigenous cultural heritage is not considered protected under current copyright laws. (Brigitte Vézina and Alexis Muscat, Sharing Indigenous cultural heritage online: An overview of GLAM policies, Creative Commons, August 8, 2020)

This problem was raised by Indigenous artists during the 2018 review of the Canadian Copyright Act, held by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The following recommendation was included in the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology final report on the 2018 Copyright Act review:

"Recommendation #5:

  • That the Government of Canada consult with Indigenous groups, experts, and other stakeholders on the protection of traditional arts and cultural expressions in the context of Reconciliation, and that this consultation address the following matters, among others: The recognition and effective protection of traditional arts and cultural expressions in Canadian law, within and beyond copyright legislation;
  • The participation of Indigenous groups in the development of national and international intellectual property law;
  • The development of institutional, regulatory, and technological means to protect traditional arts and cultural expressions..."

Respect for Indigenous cultural heritage is also supported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. For example, call #45 (subsection four) is to “[r]econcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation, including the recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions in negotiation and implementation processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other constructive agreements.”

In early December of 2020, the Liberal Government introduced a bill to "begin the process of bringing Canadian law into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)." (Ryan Patrick Jones, Liberals introduce bill to implement UN Indigenous rights declaration, Canadian Broadcast Corporation News, December 3, 2020).

"On June 16, Canada’s Senate voted to pass Bill C-15, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (the UNDRIP Act or the Act), into law. The UNDRIP Act received Royal Assent on June 21, marking a historic milestone in Canada’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP or the Declaration)." (Sander Duncanson, Coleman Brinker, Kelly Twa, Maeve O'Neill Sanger, Federal UNDRIP bill becomes law, Osler, June 22, 2021)

Articles related to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and Canada's involvement:

Why is this important?

“Stories, you see, are not just entertainment. Stories are power. They reflect the deepest, the most intimate perceptions, relationships and attitudes of a people. Stories show how a people, a culture, thinks. Such wonderful offerings are seldom reproduced by outsiders.” Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (Stop stealing native stories, The Globe and Mail, January 26, 1990, Introduction to Indigenous literary criticism in Canada, 2016, page 33, Borrowed power: Essays on cultural appropriation, 1997, page 71)
“Spiritman” by Danielle Kehler, mixed media with hand-beading on canvas. © Danielle Kehler. This open access work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 license. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

Indigenous cultural heritage has been copied, claimed, misused and misappropriated countless times. An example of Indigenous Knowledges and misappropriation can be found in the use of a sacred emblem and belonging to the Zia people of New Mexico, USA. More information about the emblem and its use can be found at the following:

In Canada, the Maliseet First Nation lost many of their oral stories to Laszlo Szabo in the 1970s, when he obtained the copyright for making tape recordings of the stories. The community was able to reclaim and publish their own stories over forty years later. More information and details about this can be found at the following:

Our goal in creating this web page is to acknowledge that existing Canadian copyright law is not enough, progress is needed and we have much to learn. We must follow the laws, protocols, and processes (that is, as determined by Indigenous Elders) in order to respect the circumstances under which Indigenous cultural heritage may and may not be shared.

“Legislation must be subordinate to the Constitution...This means the Copyright Act cannot infringe on constitutionally guaranteed rights giving Aboriginal Peoples control over both their tangible and non-tangible property. This reality is recognized by the courts and underlined by Canada’s position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Marie Battiste (Copyright Act review an opportunity to press feds on Aboriginal issues, CAUT Bulletin, October 2016)

1. Research and data

When conducting Indigenous research, there are many important considerations to ensure that the research is done in a respectful and good way. Memorial University has compiled a helpful, living web page of frequently asked questions about Indigenous research:

A few examples of questions included on the web page are:

  • I want to work with Indigenous groups. Where do I start?
  • Are there existing principles or best practices for doing research with Indigenous groups respectfully?
  • How does intellectual property work with Indigenous peoples?

Per University of Saskatchewan policies: Responsible Conduct of Research Policy

  • "University Members are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the scholarly standards and practices that are generally accepted within the relevant scholarly field and following them according to the highest standards of research integrity. University Members are responsible for:
    e: Respecting the inherent and collective sovereign rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to ownership and governance of their data."
"The starting point for any ethical research of Indigenous knowledge and heritage must be the law of the Indigenous people being studied, which defines what constitutes property, identifies who has the right to share knowledge and property, and determines who is to benefit from and who is to be responsible for such sharing. Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and heritage are not commodities, nor are they the property of the nation-states or their researchers. Indigenous knowledge and heritage are sacred gifts and responsibilities that must be honoured and held for the benefit of future generations." Marie Battiste and James [Sa'ke'j] Youngblood Henderson (Protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage : A global challenge, 2000, page 144)

Research and data - books/journal articles

Research and data - online resources

2. Open educational resources

If you are thinking about using an open education resource for your class, the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning provides detailed information on Open Education Practices to get you started. If you are starting the process of creating an open textbook that includes Indigenous Knowledges, there are some best practices that not only include the 5Rs of openness (retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) as described by David Wiley in his article The access compromise and the 5th R (CC BY 4.0), but also when creating relationships with Indigenous partners and communities:

  1. Relationship building must come first.
  2. Nothing by us without us.
  3. Integrate OCAP® principles into open educational resources development.
  4. Not all Indigenous Knowledge wants to be open.
  5. How information is shared matters.

These best practices are discussed in more detail in the white paper Community first: Open practices and Indigenous Knowlege by Krista McCracken and Skylee-Storm Hogan.

3. Digitization


4. Curriculum

5. Art and media

6. Style and citation guides

Style guides

Citation guides

University of Saskatchewan Citation style guides: Citation styles research guide (citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers in both APA and MLA styles):

These templates were first developed by Lorisia MacLeod, a librarian at NorQuest College in Edmonton, in consultation with Elders and other librarians. We appreciate and acknowledge the time and effort it took to develop these guidelines. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) (NorQuest details and exceptions)

7. Sui generis projects

Sui generis is a Latin phrase that means "Of its own kind or class; i.e., the only one of its own kind; peculiar." (The Law Dictionary, featuring Black's Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed.)."In the context of the Traditional Knowledge discourse, the term is commonly used to describe new laws and legislation developed exclusively to protect Traditional Knowledge." (Greg Young-ing, Intellectual property rights, legislated protection, sui generis models and ethical access in the transformation of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, Thesis, October 2006)

There are ongoing projects from countries and regional organizations which help to protect Indigenous cultural heritages. It is the goal of these projects to offer ways of protecting Indigenous heritage that are not included in colonial copyright laws.


“Some years ago, Elders told stories at a conference; they had a storytelling conference. The people who brought this gathering together took those stories which were told…and the editor, a non-Indigenous person, then put this collection together, for which a copyright was made to her. So Indigenous peoples are asking, ‘If I give you this [story], you take it and say: this is my property, when it’s my story. And my story belongs not to me but it is created by a collective effort of my community. The story doesn’t come because I’m an individual. It comes because I’m in a particular culture, in a particular language, in a particular situation that has been collectively acquired and developed through the collectivity’. So it’s a collective effort, it’s a collective issue. In the book that we wrote about protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage, this was one of the issues: Who owns the works of Indigenous people when they are collectively created?” Marie Battiste (Prepared by Lee, Deborah, Smith, David A., and contributions by Gagné, Mary-Lynn, University library report on the Ithaka S+R study on improving library resources and services for Indigenous studies scholars: University of Saskatchewan context, University of Saskatchewan, October 30, 2018)

Resources on cultural appropriation

What examples come to mind when you think about cultural appropriation? If you do an online search of Native American Halloween costumes, results will include an abundance of images of non-Indigenous people of all ages wearing "inspired" costumes with headdresses, weapons and are then posed in a stereotypical fashion. Or Pharrell donning a headdress for a magazine cover. Is this cultural appropriation? What about Grey Owl? An Englishman assuming the identity of an Indigenous person and their heritage. Imagine you attend a gallery exhibit of art "inspired" by Indigenous art but created by a non-Indigenous person. Does that art still have the same meaning and value behind the style, shapes, lines, patterns, form, beings, and colours represented in it? Consider the following articles:

These examples of cultural appropriation, as well as additional readings listed in the book/journals and online subsections below, demonstrate the importance of respecting and protecting the traditions, stories, spirituality and culture present in much Indigenous art. There are inherent issues in non-Indigenous peoples capitalizing on Indigenous work without acknowledgement or permission. For so many years, the cultures of Indigenous groups and Indigenous people of Canada have been stripped from them because of the Indian Act enacted in 1876, residential schools (1880s to late the 1990s) and the Sixties Scoop. In its own way, cultural appropriation is a continuation of this mistreatment.

Cultural appreciation

But what if I want to wear something that was designed and sewn by an Indigenous artist like moccasins or beaded jewelry, or wear a ribbon skirt for a Grounding Circle or Ceremony at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre? Yes, yes and YES!

Author and radio host Rosanna Deerchild states that cultural appreciation, "truly honours our nations’ arts and cultures. You take the time to learn and interact, to gain understanding of a culture, or cultures, different from your own. It is a cultural exchange based on mutual respect and the key is consent and participation. If it is about us, it must include us.” (Cultural appropriation vs. appreciation, Canadian CBC News, June 1, 2017)

Cultural appropriation - books/journal articles

Cultural appropriation - online resources

Resources on rematriation and repatriation



Additional resources

Books/journal articles

Online resources

Land acknowledgement

“Warrior Woman” by Danielle Kehler, mixed media with hand-beading on canvas. © Danielle Kehler. This open access work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 license. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/).

"As we gather here today, we acknowledge we are on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respect to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of this place and reaffirm our relationship with one another." University Council 

As Treaty people, we recognize that treaties are “mutually beneficial arrangements that guarantee a co-existence between the treaty parties. Newcomers and their descendants benefit from the wealth generated from the land and the foundational rights provided in the treaties. They built their society in this new land where some were looking for political and religious freedoms. Today, there are misconceptions that only First Nations people are part of the treaties, but in reality, both parties are part of treaty. All people in Saskatchewan are treaty people.” (Office of the Treaty Commissioner, Treaty essential learnings: We are all treaty people, August 2008, page 16)

If you are interested in writing your own land acknowledgement for your class, presentation, personal or reconciliation reasons, find below some resources to help guide you.

Getting help

If you have any questions or concerns about copyright, please let us know!

Copyright Coordinator
122.13 Murray Library

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