On the 4th day of the OOLidays: Perspectives on Indigenous Knowledge and Open Practice

On the 4th day of the OOLidays: Perspectives on Indigenous Knowledge and Open Practice

Russell Nahdee of the Fish Clan and a member from Bkejwanong Territory, the Walpole Island First Nation, Learning Specialist in the Office of Open Learning.
Nick Baker, Director of the Office of Open Learning

Open educational practices (OEPs), which include the use and creation of Open Educational Resources (OERs), are often framed in terms of collaboration, sharing, and empowerment, with a focus on equity and social justice (Lambert & Funk, 2022). Openly licencing content, for example using Creative Commons (CC) licences, is a way for the intellectual property owner to explicitly indicate the intended use of the material – what others are allowed to freely do with their IP. For Indigenous Knowledge holders, the question of ownership that underpins Western understandings of copyright and the uses granted by CC licences, is much more complex, especially in societies where the knowledge is the collective property of the tribe, nation, or other sociocultural identity (Anderson & Christen, 2013).

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  (to which Canada is a signatory) recognises that Indigenous Peoples have the right to “…maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.” Indigenous Peoples the world over have had their intellectual and cultural property stolen and appropriated for thousands of years, so developing approaches that ensure that Indigenous Knowledge holders are able to control how, when, and if their knowledge is shared have become increasingly important, especially in the digital age where it is so easy to capture and share content without context or acknowledgement. One promising approach is the use of Traditional Knowledge (TK) labels, developed by Local Contexts “to create effective and recognized pathways for implementing and maintaining Indigenous data rights and facilitate ethical relationships and enable collaboration with stewards of Indigenous collections.” (Local Context, ND).

The TK labels provide Knowledge Holders with a mechanism for signalling the appropriate use of cultural heritage. They currently have three categories: 1. Provenance – identifies the group or sub-group that is the primary cultural authority for the material; 2. Protocol – outlines the traditional protocols associated with access to this material and invites viewers to respect community protocols; and 3. Permission – indicates what activities the community has approved as generally acceptable, and any other use must be explicitly approved by the cultural authority. Each category has multiple labels that can be applied to materials, giving a more nuanced approach to cultural content and context than the CC licences.  

Kayla Lar-Son, a Metis woman from Tofield, Alberta, and Indigenous Programs and Services Librarian at the University of British Columbia, offers an emerging framework for OERs and Indigenous Knowledge – the 6 R’s of Indigenous OERs, which modify the original 5 R’s of OERs to an Indigenous context. Kayla’s framework includes:

  1. Respect – for Indigenous cultural identity, community, and topics
  2. Relationships – recognising and building relations with communities
  3. Responsibility – to share only when we are allowed, and to publish in an ethical way while considering ownerships, protocols, and community practices
  4. Reverence – respect for the sacred
  5. Relevance – legitimize and incorporate Indigenous Knowledges into curriculum when it makes sense
  6. Reciprocity – giving back.

Kayla notes that while protocols and legal traditions vary from community to community, knowledge in the Indigenous context is usually earned, rather than freely given, and is influenced by familial relationships, gender, age, geography (knowledge tied to the Land) and season (all of which are also captured in the TK labels). She argues that Indigenous-created OERs are important because they have the potential to create collaborative educational resources that build better relationships between Indigenous People and settlers, while still maintaining Indigenous data sovereignty, but also as tools for language and culture revitalization for communities.


Anderson, J. and Christen, K. (2013). ‘Chuck a Copyright on it’: Dilemmas of Digital Return and the Possibilities for Traditional Knowledge Licenses and Labels. Museum Anthropology Review. Vol.7(1-2), pp.105-126.

Kirkness, V. J. and R. Barnhardt (2001). First Nations and Higher Education: The Four R’s – Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. In Knowledge Across Cultures: A Contribution to Dialogue Among Civilizations. R. Hayoe and J. Pan. Hong Kong, eds., Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong.

Lambert, S. and Funk, J. (2022). Open educational practices in a Cultural Capability unit: learning at the cultural interface. Journal for Multicultural Education. Vol.16 No.5, pp.522-537 Emerald Publishing Limited 2053-535X DOI: 10.1108/JME-01-2022-0005

Lar-Son, K., (2023). 6 R’s of Indigenous OER’s: Rethinking & Reworking Indigenous Open Ed. Keynote presentation for OEGlobal23. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGY7KSDmn-I

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