Understanding Rights, Ownership, and Stewardship / Kim Christen

This study path introduces learners to Traditional Knowledge Labels and how to explore copyright, access, and use issues related to developing tools for Indigenous communities and cultural objects. 

By Dr. Kim Christen, Director, Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, Washington State University

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how Traditional Knowledge Labels function in relation to standard copyright.
  • Explain how Traditional Knowledge Labels provide a different way for Indigenous communities to promote their views of access and use of their cultural materials.
  • Gain a perspective on the exclusion of Indigenous systems of ownership and stewardship from mainstream intellectual property rights systems (copyright, patents).
  • Gain insight about how Indigenous systems of stewardship differ from Western notions of ownership.

This study path combines two activities:


Reflection/discussion prompt

This assignment asks students to engage with the Local Contexts initiative and particularly the Traditional Knowledge Labels in order to understand the contours of access and ownership in relation to Indigenous peoples’ cultural materials. 

In small groups, go to the Local Contexts website and read the text and watch the video in the “About” section. Discuss in your group who the audience(s) is/are for the Local Contexts initiative, and describe the goals of Local Context. Then go to the Traditional Knowledge (TK) Label

, read the text, watch the video and then explore some of the TK Labels by clicking on them and reading their descriptions.

Once you’ve explored the labels, choose 2-3 and discuss how they differ from copyright and open access. As a group, list scenarios in which you would need to use TK Labels.

After you have done this, individually go to the Library of Congress website and examine the Passamaquoddy Trader’s Song and War Song record. As you engage with the record, read all the sections, including the notes, and read the text for the TK labels that were added by the Passamaquoddy community.


Write a paper reflecting on the Passamaquoddy TK Labels and added metadata (cultural narratives and added notes) in relationship to the original institutional metadata. What do you see as the benefits of this type of added metadata? How does this help you understand the limits of Western copyright and legal systems in relation to cultural heritage materials?



Anderson, Jane, and Kimberly Christen. 2013. “‘Chuck a Copyright on It’: Dilemmas of Digital Return and the Possibilities for Traditional Knowledge Licenses and Labels.” Museum Anthropology Review 7 (1–2): 105–26. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/mar/article/view/2169.
Christen, Kimberly. 2015. “Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the ‘s’ Matters.” Journal of Western Archives 6 (1). http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/westernarchives/vol6/iss1/3/.

Case Studies

Mukurtu Case Studies

Communities of practice

Local Contexts

Sustainable Heritage Network

Exemplary projects

Sq’éwlets – A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley

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