Open or Appropriate?

This post is a bit of house-keeping I wanted to start off with, as anytime someone is talking about a cultural community they don’t belong to, there can be some tensions.

One of the biggest questions in any initiative for Indigenous communities that begins outside of that community is whether it is appropriate. Open access movements are no different, and in many cases the term “appropriate access” is far more suitable.

Why? Many indigenous cultures have suffered throughout centuries, being subjugated, disempowered, discriminated against, and more. In Canada, this is a huge topic of tension – as it should be – and it means that misappropriation is a constant issue that must be addressed. I know that this issue has been on the news recently in other countries as well, such as the open discussion around feathered headdresses worn by music festival attendees.

It can be easy to dismiss concerns about misappropriation, as it can be done without thinking, or even as a misdirected show of respect or admiration of another culture. An excellent article that I found explained the difference between showing your interest in, or admiration for, another culture without taking an image or ideology that does not belong to you can be found here:  “Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation” by Jarune Uwujaren.

Cultural exchange, or cultural preservation, is a much better goal for open access movements when dealing with indigenous groups. Ensuring that the communities involved are the ones creating, directing access to, and providing any information about themselves is the most important aspect of that.

Some excellent further reading on Cultural Exchange can be found at:

  • The Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia’s Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Program ***[please note: this is not open access, as all net proceeds go to support the program, including resources, conferences, workshops, etc.]***
  • The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training resources. Intended to inform GNWT employees, their modules are available for public viewing and are an excellent basis.
  • The Aboriginal Construction Careers website offers a great deal of information on a variety of cultural tensions in Canada and how to work within them appropriately. Most of it is applicable to any industry. It also has a section on creating an Aboriginal Employment Initiatives. It was funded by the Government of Canada’s Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund.


Some cultural exchange programs that focus both on inter-Indigenous and on Indigenous/non-Indigenous exchanges:

  • Canadian Roots – program works with both First Nations communities from throughout Canada, and with Universities and the YMCA to foster workshops, conferences, and exchanges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.
  • University of Lethbridge [Calgary, AB, Canada], and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [Melbourne, VIC, Australia] have a long-standing Artist in Resident exchange program that focuses on the artistic exchange of cultural influences from their respective Indigenous communities.

I’ll add more information as I come across it!