OLA’s 2019 Copyright Symposium at the Intersection of Copyright Law and Indigenous Knowledge

During my day job, I handle copyright at an academic library, so I was supremely lucky this year that my manager was able and willing to send me to the annual Ontario Library Association (OLA) Copyright Symposium in Toronto on November 22nd. This year’s one day conference was looking at copyright and social responsibility through the lens of reconciliation as they explored the intersection of Canada’s Copyright Law (with some US discussion making a brief appearance) and traditional Indigenous Knowledge. Canada is currently engaged in a heavy reconciliation process with our Indigenous population, and many areas of the library industry are working on figuring out what that means and how we can support these members of our communities. My Foundations of Library and Information Studies class has a week long discussion about the Truth and Reconciliation Report and ethics actually back at the tail end of October in which I talked about this exact issue because I’ve been interested in it since I learned about it at the University of Waterloo’s 2018 Open Access Day conference.

It was a really full and fulfilling day. I walked away with a really good understanding of the issues even if I don’t have any concrete implementations myself at the moment, if only because I don’t have any projects where the knowledge I’ve gained will be applicable yet. Thanks to the presentation I attended in 2018, I didn’t come into the day of the Copyright Symposium blindly. I already knew about the conflicts that exist between copyright and traditional knowledge and some of the efforts, like WIPO’s briefs, and the CFLA statements, on educating library professionals about this topic. The symposium was all about hearing from members of the Indigenous communities who are dealing with these conflicts every day, hearing about what they’re dealing with and how. The only downside was that, in between sessions and during breaks, I had a massive school assignment I was also working on; so I didn’t get to connect with as many of the other copyright people attending the day as I could have. But I did meet one wonderful librarian who knew all about the University of Alberta MLIS program because she used to work at UofA’s library.

So what did the day look like?

10:15-11:15am: Opening Keynote | Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans – Assistant Professor – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans is from Wikwemikong First Nation. She is a new media producer, writer and scholar specializing in the convergence between education, Indigenous knowledge and new media technologies. Dr. Wemigwans takes pride in working to invert the conventional use of media by revealing the potential for Indigenous cultural expression and Indigenous knowledge through new technologies, education and the arts. Her book A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online (2018) explores the prospects of education and digital projects in a networked world. Her work in academia and online technologies puts her in a unique position to tap the pulse of innovation in Indigenous education, the arts, and media.

via OLA

Dr. Wemigwans talked about Indigenous knowledge in online environments and the effect the role that technology can play in both preserving and passing on traditional knowledge. She spoke at length about a project she worked on, a teaching tool called Four Directions Teachings which is the digital bundle she was using to explain the work in her new book. One of the pieces I took out of this presentation was the idea that sharing is a political strategy for resistance, as someone who has embraced the values and principles of the open movement with open arms I completely understood what she meant. Sharing information or access to information can be one of the most subversive actions a library or information professional can engage in. I also learned that the closest we can get to the word copyright when it comes to traditional knowledge is protocol, protocol protects traditional knowledge in an analogous way to copyright law protecting intellectual property.

11:30-12:15pm: Presentation | J’Net AyAyQwaYakSheelth, Indigenous Outreach + Learning Coordinator – Royal Ontario Museum

J’net AyAyQwaYakSheelth (One who gives away and still stands tall) is the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator. As part of the Learning Department, J’net leads the development and implementation of relevant Indigenous content and perspectives in School Visits and community outreach programs. This work is designed to advance awareness, understanding, and appreciation for Indigenous cultures and heritage in both historical and contemporary contexts. J’net also developed an Indigenous Advisory Circle of knowledge carriers, elders, youth, and artists to assist ROM with the authentic representation of Indigenous peoples in educational programming, youth programs, and expand our outreach throughout the province. 

via OLA

J’net was a very charismatic speaker, she really made her talk personal and explained her experiences to us, and the way we might experience things because we’re outsiders. She walked us through community interactions and how they can vary between the inner-circle, the outer-circle and the public, because there are just some things, like protocols, that just aren’t for public consumption. She gave us a really great walk-through on how to improve our land acknowledgements to allow them to be more authentic and sincere – because there has been controversy around the subject of land acknowledgements. Her two main tips here were to

  • talk about your relation and connection to the land honestly
  • thank the land and the communities it historically belongs to

1:15-2:00pm: “Centering Eeyou Knowledge at Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute” | Annie Bosum

Annie will introduce Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute and talk about the implementation of the Brian Deer classification system, and how they adapted Deer to reflect Cree world views and knowledge. Annie will give some examples about how they address copyright and intellectual property at Aanischaaukamikw.

via OLA

This was a really practical case study presentation. It was good to see a library technician presenting it because we don’t often get support staff as speakers at library conferences here and I think that’s something we should definitely be encouraging. Annie walks us through her library’s switch to a new classification system for their collection. It’s not just our western copyright laws that are at odds with traditional knowledge, our classification systems don’t play nicely with them either. Neither Dewey nor LCC were providing them with enough nuance and distinction to actually sort their collection properly so they looked into using a customised version of the X̱wi7x̱wa Classification System (aka the Brian Deer classification system after the BC First Nations librarian who developed it). A Tribute to Brian Deer explains the system but the main thing you need to know is that it was developed by an Indigenous person specifically for use with indigenous language collections to solve the problems caused by western classification systems, and that it is flexible to meet the needs of each community that implements it.

2:15-3:00pm: “The IP Strategy and the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Expressions in Canada and Abroad.” | Shelley Rowe, Senior Project Leader – Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED)

Ms. Rowe will speak about the overall Government  Priorities regarding Indigenous Peoples, the IP Strategy, the Copyright Act Review, and the WIPO IGC negotiations. 

via OLA

Shelley Rowe walked us through the Indigenous Peoples and Intellectual Property website and what the Government of Canada is currently working on as it related to Indigenous peoples and IP, copyright and reconciliation. The main takeaway here was to learn that the Canadian Government has committed $1 million over 5 years on indigenous initiatives with the objective to contribute to a more inclusive IP system by support indigenous IP awareness and capacity building.

3:00-3:30pm: Case Study Activity | Presented by Meaghan Shannon, Manager, Academic Integrity – Fanshawe College

This is an activity they do every year at the Symposium. This year, we were presented with a selection of multiple case studies related to copyright and traditional knowledge, such as who owns the research data from a project that involved gathering data directly from Indigenous groups. We discussed these as a whole group; which actually led very nicely into the final session of the day.

3:30-4:30pm: “Archives and the Reach of Indigenous Dispossession” | Dr. Robin R.R. Gray, Assistant Professor – Department of Sociology, University of Toronto

Dr. Robin R. R. Gray is Ts’msyen from Lax Kw’alaams, BC and Mikisew Cree from Fort Chipewyan, AB. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Gray’s current community-based research projects focus on the repatriation of Ts’msyen songs, and foundational issues related to the protection, management, ownership, access and control of Indigenous cultural heritage.

via OLA

Dr. Gray’s talk was enlightening, she related a case which she was directly involved in. She was tasked by her communities in BC to help track down and repatriate some songs from her community from an archive at Columbia in New York. The songs were originally captured as video performances by a researcher who then claimed copyright over them. Dr. Gray described in great detail how she tracked down the hands the songs had passed through before ending up at the Archive in Columbia and about how she worked in concert with Columbia on the repatriation process. She ended by telling us about the ceremony back in BC when she was able to present the songs and give them back to her community.

Overall, after the day, I feel like I have a better understanding of the struggles these communities face and a newfound deeper respect for the issues at hand. I want to learn more about them, and I hope after reading this, that you all do, too.

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