Getting Started with Indigenous Cultural Heritage Stewardship

ICH stewardship is a management model where Indigenous people have control over their cultural heritage and how it is documented, used, accessed, shared and celebrated. It is an important way to assert and practice Indigenous sovereignty, and connects generations of Indigenous peoples to one another and to their lands, language and ancestors. These connections are integral to cultural identities and directly translate into wellness and safety.

ICH stewardship is a management model and approach that is:

  • Grounded: Based on thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge and practices
  • Holistic: Recognizes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual connections
  • Cyclical: Based on what is relevant during each season of life
  • Relevant: Led by Indigenous people to address their current needs and priorities
  • Adaptive: Responsive to the changing needs of Indigenous peoples and the challenges they face

ICH Principles and Frameworks

ICH stewardship is guided by some important principles and frameworks. When planning an ICH initiative, it’s useful to think about how personal and community visions and plans connect with them. Click here for more detailed descriptions of each of these principles and frameworks.

Indigenous AutonomyIndigenous autonomy means that Indigenous peoples decide what is best for them. This includes ownership and control over all forms of ICH. Ownership of tangible ICH, such as cultural belongings and regalia, may be clearer because they can be seen and held. However, all forms of ICH should be cared for and respected in the same way.

Indigenous autonomy is important because it prevents further harm caused by colonization. An example of this harm is an organization that includes ICH in art exhibits or business branding without the consent of the owners of that ICH.
Intellectual and Cultural PropertyIntellectual and cultural property includes Indigenous knowledge held collectively and by individuals, and physical belongings that reflect this knowledge, such as regalia and carvings. As with other forms of ICH, Indigenous peoples have had their intellectual and cultural property rights disrespected and appropriated.

Having a plan for ICH stewardship can help communities ensure that their knowledge cannot be reproduced, suppressed, misused or taken without permission. This can include requirements for consent to include and record Indigenous intellectual and cultural property in written, spoken and multimedia forms, and in public exhibitions like museums and galleries.
Indigenous RightsICH stewardship honours the rights and responsibilities that Indigenous peoples have to their cultures and lands. An ICH stewardship plan can support communities and Nations in putting these rights into action to reclaim their cultural identities. In this way, ICH stewardship can address ongoing injustices that disconnect Indigenous peoples from their lands, languages and cultures.

ICH stewardship recognizes Indigenous people as the rightful stewards or caretakers of their ICH. This right is supported by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action.
Indigenous Legal TraditionsIndigenous governance and legal traditions have developed over thousands of years and change with every generation to adapt to contemporary contexts. They act as a system of accountability and shared identity, and are often rooted in origin stories that share important teachings gifted from the spirit world.

ICH stewardship can be used to strengthen and enact Indigenous legal traditions that have been negatively impacted by colonial laws and processes.

Integrating Indigenous legal traditions into ICH stewardship can include:

  • Writing a community’s legal traditions into ICH policies and/or laws
  • Educating industry about legal traditions so they work respectfully in Indigenous territories
  • Educating the public so they can educate others
  • Building relationships with other First Nations communities, municipalities, cultural resource management firms, government and industry
  • Engaging in community education to re-establish traditional responsibilities for upholding and protecting laws and rights
  • Ensuring that legal traditions are understood and represented within a First Nation’s different departments, within family groups and among members of the community across the generations