Indigenous Linguistics & Cultural Heritage Ethics Policy

Statement of Intent

A significant part of the Centre’s research is reliant on the participation of indigenous communities in Australia and the Asia Pacific, and actively contributes to the transmission and safeguarding of important cultural, linguistic and historical information. The Centre recognises the right of indigenous communities and individuals to maintain, control, protect and develop their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, and the inherent ownership they have over this intellectual property. The Centre also recognises that communities and individuals within the region hold different views as to what these rights entail. Research conducted by Centre staff and students at the collaborating institutions is subject to approval by the respective institutional human research ethics committees. These statutory committees review and approve research involving Indigenous people with specific reference to Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (NHMRC 2003), and AIATSIS Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research (AIATSIS 2021), plus the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (NHMRC, ARC, AVCC 2007) and ask researchers to consider expectations in Keeping Research on Track (NHMRC 2006). However, the CoE acknowledges that simply adhering to institutional requirements does not entail an ethical outcome, and we endorse the NHMRC’s statement that it “is possible for researchers to ‘meet’ rule-based requirements without engaging fully with the implications of difference and values relevant to their research. The approach advanced in these guidelines is more demanding of researchers as it seeks to move from compliance to trust.” (NHMRC 2003: 4)

In addition, the Centre recognises the important contribution of the guidelines developed by The Australia Council for the Arts on Indigenous Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Music, Writing, Visual Arts, Media Arts and Performing Arts (2007). These are especially relevant with regard to such materials as indigenous stories and song performances recorded in the course of CoEDL research. We will always assert the moral rights of performers in collections of material produced by the Centre. We suggest using the Traditional Knowledge (TK) Commons licence system (International Development Law Organization 2009) as an addition to Creative Commons for licensing the use of records created by researchers and speakers.

An important part of the Centre’s work will involve creating records of performances (narratives, songs, and other expressions of traditional languages) for the people we work with. Through the activities of the Archiving and New Technologies Threads, the Centre will dedicate significant resources to ensuring that cultural data, recordings and other media are properly looked after and curated in long-term archives, and that copies are returned to the communities from which they originate in a timely and sensitive manner. This will take many forms, ranging from appropriate repatriation of the originally recorded materials, assistance in making them available in web-accessible form where the community wishes, ongoing access over time via the archive, production of dictionaries, readers, orthographies, books of traditional stories, plant uses etc, and versions of dictionaries that can be loaded onto mobile phones.

Ethical research on indigenous languages and associated cultural phenomena needs to balance and reconcile a number of principles and parties: the original person making the recording, family and community sensitivities, input into transcription and translation by the linguist and/or other investigators or language workers, potential changes through time regarding people’s wishes about access, and different expectations in different localities (e.g. Australia, Vanuatu, PNG) about how best to handle these. Three fundamental principles are: (a) our commitment to ensuring a record for future generations and for all interested in indigenous languages, (b) respect and celebration of the knowledge of language and story by the teller and their wish to be remembered, (c) an acceptance that sometimes there will be a wish to restrict access to some material. We will be building in graded degrees of access, keyed to community wishes, through the digital archive PARADISEC, which has experience in formulating access conditions.

This document is a summary of the current approaches to ethical conduct in the types of research within CoEDL in working with indigenous peoples, their languages and cultures. We cross-reference below key guideline documents which govern research ethics by researchers based in Australia (National Statement; Values & Ethics; Keeping Research on Track, AIATSIS). As some of our research takes place in other countries in the Indo-Pacific more generally, our document has a wider perspective on issues of working with indigenous individuals and communities in Australia but also in the other countries of our region. As an educational document, the suggestions are intended to support the development of research integrity, respectful attitudes and spirit as shown inconsistent behaviour by our junior and senior researchers alike. It is hoped that this document will support all CoEDL researchers to continually check on the ways they do research and take their responsibility seriously in the complex and changing domain of ethical research practices. In this way it is our hope that the results and processes of our research should not do harm but should strengthen and promote survival and protection for indigenous cultures of our region in the long term. Research projects should be conducted in accordance with the principle of Indigenous peoples’ rights to maintain, control, protect and develop their intangible heritage, including their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and intellectual property.

Article 31 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts (UN 2007) (AIATSIS 2021)

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University