The Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant to a project directed by NYU and New Zealand’s University of Waikato to protect cultural knowledge and data of Native American, Māori, and other First Nations communities.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a two-year, $750,000 grant to a project directed by New York University and New Zealand’s University of Waikato to protect cultural knowledge and data of Native American, Māori, and other First Nations communities.
Equity for Indigenous Research and Innovation Coordinating Hub (ENRICH), launched in 2019, aims to establish and solidify Indigenous cultural authority within digital infrastructures and to increase Indigenous rights within historical records and future research. The focus is to ensure proper provenance and attribution of Indigenous peoples’ collections that are accessible for Indigenous communities, researchers, and the general public.
Under the Mellon grant, ENRICH will expand its training and resources developed by and for Indigenous communities in order to bolster efforts in the United States, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia to properly connect Indigenous cultural material and data to present-day communities and to establish cultural authority as well as intellectual property legal protections over them.
The ENRICH program, led by NYU legal scholar Jane Anderson, an expert in intellectual property law, and the University of Waikato’s Maui Hudson, director of Te Kotahi Research Institute, is focused on addressing pervasive and persistent inequities and inaccuracies that have been built into our cultural records and research practices. Demonstrating provenance requires that Indigenous people’s rights and interests are disclosed as part of research and ethical engagement practices.
“Digital infrastructures are not neutral,” explains Anderson, an associate professor in anthropology and museum studies at NYU. “They carry societal bias within them. These biases and historical inaccuracies continue to affect Indigenous lives.”
In recent years, researchers have begun to work more closely with Native, First Nations, Māori, Aboriginal, and Indigenous communities to turn the oral and potentially elusive to the digital and permanent. The management of Indigenous intellectual property, also known as “traditional knowledge,” and cultural heritage has become a contentious issue.
“Information and data relating to Indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge has long been misused by non-indigenous governments, scientists, and innovators,” says Hudson.
ENRICH, its digital and programmatic training hubs, and its Indigenous partners have already made strides in making transparent the cultural authority associated with artifacts and traditional knowledge:
- Songs from the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine have been updated in the Library of Congress’s online catalogue bearing Passamaquoddy traditional knowledge labels.
- The Sq’ewlets Band of the Sto:lo First Nation in Canada has updated its collection to include traditional knowledge labels in their virtual museum exhibition.
- The Penobscot Nation in Maine signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Maine to properly identify Penobscot collections and use Penobscot traditional knowledge labels across the university’s library, museum, and other university departments (see photo above).
- The Whakatōhea Nation in New Zealand are applying traditional knowledge labels to a range of digital contexts, including the Whakatōhea Digital Library and the Whakatōhea Waiata App.
In preparation for Indigenous People’s Month in November, Anderson and Hudson explain their work, and the larger issues it addresses, in this video (credit: Andreas Burgess, 2021).