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Principled partnerships

Memorial implements agreement supporting Indigenous data sovereignty

Research

By Jeff Green

Memorial is among the first universities in Canada to create and adopt a formal research agreement that recognizes Indigenous data sovereignty.

The agreement also supports researchers in their efforts to be accountable to the ways Indigenous data should be collected, protected, used and shared in partnership and in accordance with Indigenous priorities.

“The new template is one of many ongoing initiatives at Memorial to strengthen ethics and accountability in Indigenous research,” said Dr. Max Liboiron, interim associate vice-president (Indigenous research), who played an integral role in the development of the agreement.

Snow sampling research
At right, Liz Pijogge, Northern contaminants researcher at the Nunatsiavut Government, samples snow for microplastics analysis for a project partnered with Dr. Max Liboiron.
Photo: Liz Pijogge

Staff from Research Grant and Contract Services (RGCS) and the university’s associate general counsel (research) were also central to its development.

“The template is just that – a template. It can be adapted to each context, need and partnership as required,” Dr. Liboiron explained, noting that one group has already added a clause for co-authorship to the agreement.

“It’s a small step, but any sized step is important. It is not perfect, but it is good. I hope Memorial researchers and their partners choose to pursue an Indigenous data sovereignty approach like the one supported by the Indigenous Research Agreement template, and other institutions are able to use it as a model.”

Indigenous data sovereignty

Researchers can request use of the template when submitting contracts and applications to RGCS, who will work with all partners to ensure the best fit possible.

Memorial researchers cannot sign research agreements themselves; this will be completed by RGCS.

“It is encouraging and exciting to see an academic institution take important steps to recognize Indigenous sovereignty over data and knowledge.” — Greg Flowers

Calls for Indigenous data sovereignty – the right of a nation to govern the collection, ownership and application of its data – have grown in intensity and scope over the past few years, says Dr. Liboiron.

Memorial researchers are using the agreement in collaboration with several Indigenous groups, including the Nunatsiavut Government.

A scenic photo of Nain taken by Memorial student researcher Natasha Healey, non-resident member of NunatuKavut Community Council.
A scenic photo of Nain taken by Memorial student researcher Natasha Healey, non-resident member of NunatuKavut Community Council.
Photo: Natasha Healey

‘Great resource’

“It is encouraging and exciting to see an academic institution take important steps to recognize Indigenous sovereignty over data and knowledge,” said Greg Flowers, minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Nunatsiavut Government.

“The agreement reinforces the ways that the Nunatsiavut Government has actively approached research and research partnerships for many years. We look forward to seeing faculty and students associated with Memorial University use this agreement and hope this will encourage others in the wider academic community to take similar steps. Providing a written template that can be shared, used and adapted by all will be a great resource for the Nunatsiavut Government and our partners.”

Staff from the Nunatsiavut Government have travelled to St. John’s to collaborate with Memorial researchers to conduct shoreline research.
Nunatsiavut Government staff travelled to St. John’s to collaborate with Memorial researchers to conduct shoreline research.
Photo: Dr. Max Liboiron

Integrity and impact

President Vianne Timmons says Memorial’s Indigenous Research Agreement will enhance the integrity and impact of research.

The template is a response to Indigenous data sovereignty and specifically the First Nations principles of ownership, control, access and possession (OCAP™) of data.

“As Newfoundland and Labrador’s university, Memorial has a special and deeply rooted obligation to all of the people of this province,” Dr. Timmons said.

“This agreement will play an important role as we move forward in our work of truth, reconciliation and renewed relationships with Indigenous Peoples. I thank Dr. Liboiron and her colleagues within the vice-president (research) portfolio for their diligent work in developing this agreement.”

A copy of the Indigenous Research Agreement template can be found here.

Indigenous groups and other research institutions are welcome to use Memorial University’s Indigenous Research Agreement template as a model for their own data sovereignty needs. Groups should cite the template as Office of the Vice-President (Research). (2020). “Indigenous Research Agreement.” Memorial University of Newfoundland.


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