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Global Ethics Policy

July 2018
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Indspire’s Global Ethics Policy was developed to communicate policies, guidelines and practices relevant to research ethics review, ethical conduct in research, and evaluation and data collection involving Indigenous peoples. It is a document that is complementary to the First Nations Governance Centre’s (FNGC) Ownership, Control Assess, and Possession (OCAP[1]) and Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans[2].

The policies, practices and guidelines discussed in this policy are to be used as guiding documents, together with OCAP and TCPS and other Indigenous research practices, for individuals to consult when planning, designing and executing programs, projects and research. Through the use of this policy, it is expected that individuals will plan and conduct studies that incorporate best practices with respect to Indigenous participation As regional and national policies change, this policy will evolve as well.


Indspire contracts individuals which, in this policy, refers to contractors, staff, program developers and/or researchers who may be Indigenous or non-Indigenous. They conduct research or undertake various types of projects on behalf of Indspire. Therefore, it is critical to provide guidelines that are clear, relevant, and useful for individuals involved as well as reflective of Indspire’s foundational guiding principles for Indigenous educational practices (in this policy educational practices includes any research, program and/or projects).

The intention for this document is to underscore ethical guidelines for individuals to ensure, to the extent possible, ethical guidelines on research and program/project development involving Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples are followed. The term ‘Indigenous’ is used in this document to include Aboriginal people which is defined as First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-Status Indians – See the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2 2014)[3], Chapter 9, P. 111 for definitions and contexts regarding Aboriginal peoples.

An important aspect of Indspire’s Code of Ethics regarding respectful engagement in research endeavours is consideration of the historic-current lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As Chapter 9 of the TCPS indicates; Aboriginal peoples of Canada have unique status and existing Aboriginal and treaty rights[4]. Further, the acknowledgement and recognition of the diverse lived realities of Indigenous peoples must be understood as expressed in various ways: juxtaposed lives against Western frameworks, integrated Western – Indigenous lifeways, bicultural and/or multicultural lives, expressing Indigenous traditions within communities, expressing Indigenous traditions within mainstream educational institutions, and/or organizations, and many more. Generalizing or pan-Indigenous statements or approaches do not reflect the diversity of Indigenous People and therefore need to be avoided by individuals conducting educational practices. Researchers must acknowledge these multiple realities and understanding the Indigenous contexts within those realities (See Article 9.2, Tri-Council Policy Statement for a deeper discussion on this topic).

Individuals must have the capacity to identify the various components that reflect Canadian mainstream perspectives and those that are reflective of Indigenous contexts of Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, cultural heritages, or unique characteristics and examine ways that these might be integrated.

The following section outlines the definitions used throughout the document.

1.0 Definitions

1.1 Indigenous Knowledge: a term used to represent the broad spectrum of “ways of knowing” and understanding by Indigenous peoples, primarily as it is linked to well-established cultural practices.

1.2 Indigenous achievement: the successes and accomplishments of First Nations (Status and Non-Status), Inuit, and Métis peoples. While achievement can be subjective and material, it can also be much broader and specific to each student and so it should not be limited to grades or graduation.

1.3 Indigenous education (formal and informal): Formal Indigenous education takes place in school environments and is academic and institutional. Informal Indigenous education takes place in the family, home, community, ceremony, etc.

1.4 Data or statistics: the information generated from either asking a question or from all those participating in a program (for example through application to BBF). Statistics are the resulting information generated by analyzing data (i.e. % of male vs female).

1.5 Research: using quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies that identify a research questions, or defining a hypothesis, testing, and retesting to ensure validity of findings.

1.6 Researcher: a person who facilitates the research process and engages research participants and data.

1.7 Collaboration: networking, liaising, and partnering between groups of individuals, collectives, institutions, etc. Working with others to achieve more than what could be achieved alone.

1.8 Community-based: a process of working that is grounded in the community of learners within First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities; adhering and respecting the values of the community and translating this into how research is conducted.

1.9 Ethical standards: Standards that are established to reflect the values and interests of Indspire’s constituents, Indigenous communities and our partners. Indspire is a proponent of community research Ethics Protocols and the Tri-Council’s Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.[5]

1.10 Knowledge mobilization: the publication, dissemination, and promotion of our research findings to key stakeholders.

1.11 Learning organization: An organization that instills and supports on-going Indigenous learning, gathering feedback and measuring success.

2.0 Indspire’s Foundational Guiding Principles

Indspire has developed foundational guiding principles that should be heeded to adapt to and define the Indigenous nature of their research projects. The Indspire foundational guiding principles for Indigenous educational practice are based on opinions from two national consultations, and reflect the values of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

Principle 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to retain shared responsibility for the education and well-being of their children.

Principle 2: As an expression of respect, reciprocity and reconciliation, strengthened partnerships between Indigenous peoples, governments (federal, provincial and territorial) and public institutions are the basis of working relationships, implicit in treaties, agreements and other constructive agreements with Indigenous peoples.

Principle 3: Indigenous Knowledges (ways of being, knowing, valuing and doing), which convey our responsibilities and relationships to all life is a valued and foundational aspect of the learning program for all children and youth.

Principle 4: Cultural/language communities have the right to define success for their own well-being.

Principle 5: Learning is viewed as lifelong, holistic, and experiential, which is rooted in language and culture, is place-based, spiritually oriented, communal and open to multiple ways of knowing the world.

Principle 6: Programs, schools and systems are responsive to both the aspirations and needs of Indigenous peoples.

Principle 7: Recognizing the legacy of the colonial histories of Indigenous peoples, education is also a process of decolonization, which seeks to strengthen, enhance & strengthen and embrace Indigenous Knowledge and experience through various strategies including but not limited to anti-racist, anti-oppressive pedagogies and Indigenous pedagogies.

3.0  Understanding the Ethical Conduct for Research
and/or Evaluation and Data Collection Involving International Indigenous Contexts

Historical ‘colonizing’ Western research processes involving Indigenous peoples have been challenged by Indigenous Maori scholar Smith (1999) in her ground breaking work ‘Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples’[6]. In response to this concern, Smith offers readers and researchers and in particular Indigenous peoples who carry out their own research that research processes be reflective of reclaiming control over Indigenous ways of knowing and being. In her work she highlights the issues that Indigenous peoples have faced in research processes conducted through the lenses of Western frameworks not respectful to Indigenous traditions, knowledges, languages, cultural diversities and processes. Smith offers an approach she coined ‘decolonizing methodologies’. Ethics guidelines regarding Indigenous peoples’ experiences, processes, and lifeways needs to recognize the specificity of social and cultural contexts of Indigenous peoples, without compromising the diversity of cultures, languages, and experiences.

Other important documents that can help individuals become informed and develop culturally relevant and Indigenous focused research can be located at the global level where various international bodies such as United Nations developed conventions/declarations that aspire to support Indigenous peoples’ needs and aspirations. For example, The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration) establishes, in Article 31[7], that Indigenous peoples ‘have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.’

Article 14 states:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
  2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
  3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language [and at least within their contextual situations].

The purpose of this document is to assist staff, contractors and individuals to draw from these documents, other Indigenous research protocol documents developed within Indigenous networks[8] and/or communities, (and those developed by Indspire research protocols) to integrate these ideas to support their research efforts in developing innovative, creative, culturally responsive Indigenous education initiatives to the degree that their situations allows and resources are found. Indspire requires that these ethical and respectful guidelines be considered for any Indspire educational practice.

While Indspire’s Global Ethics Policy includes all educational practices, the next section focusses specifically on Indspire’s’ research projects. It is recommended that all Indspire research staff and/or contractors adhere to the following section.

4.0 Relevance Canadian Tri-Council Policy Statement to Indspire Research

Canada’s research Tri-Council ‘Agencies’, composed of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), have developed policies that “promote research that is conducted according to the highest ethical standards” (Tri-Council Policy Statement (PCPS2 2014), P.  3). Although Indspire research is not funded through these research councils it is the hope of the ‘Agencies’ “…that this policy will continue to serve as a model and guide for the ethical conduct of research involving humans” (P. 4). The Tri-Council Policy Statement notes that many organizations and entities that carry out research have “…adopted, adapted and been guided by the document” (P. 4).

Therefore, Indspire is guided by the document and in particular Chapter 9, Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada. Researchers should also look at the current documents that various Indigenous networks and communities might have within their policy statements. Indspire leadership will request at minimum, their researchers review FNGC OCAP and Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement and familiarize themselves with the entire document to ensure their research is guided by ethical considerations. In addition, since Indspire has conducted consultations about foundational guiding principles, researchers need to integrate these principles into their research, from planning to final reporting. The guiding principles are previously listed (page 6) in this document.

Some highlights of the TCPS2 2014 (including Chapter 9) on Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada relevant to Indspire’s research and projects include:

  • Importance of research: research can benefit human society; academic freedom comes with responsibility to ensure that research meets ethical standards and considerations of Indigenous peoples’ knowledges are paramount; there is an ethical space for dialogue; core values of reciprocity – giving back; consider respect for Indigenous peoples on collaboration and engagement between researchers and participants.
  • Concern for welfare (care): researchers must be diligent to minimize risks associated with questions/data; ensure balance of risks and potential benefits; be mindful of vulnerable populations that may need to be afforded special attention in order to be treated justly in research.
  • Research Ethics Boards (REB): intent is to ensure protection of participants while facilitating research progress and ethics; assess the ethical acceptability of a research project through consideration of foreseeable risks; see the potential benefits and ethical implications of the project (see Article 2.9) that relates to the research projects. In application, Indspire plans to develop a Research Review Committee that will review ethics, objectives and compliance.
  • Risks: harm is anything that may have a negative effect on the welfare of participants (harms could be social, behavioural, psychological, physical or economic). Risks should be considered from the point of view of participants as must as possible; participants have the final say in how to consent their involvement in research. As such, Indspire would not delve into a research project that presented potential risk or harm to participants or communities.
  • Undue Influence: undue influence or manipulation may arise when prospective individuals are recruited by individuals in a position of authority. The influence of power relationships on the voluntariness of consent should be judged from the perspective of prospective participants. Indspire will pay attention to the vulnerable natures of trust and dependency in relationships so that undue influence is prevented.
  • Inclusion of children: caution at what stage children can make decisions and consider their maturation levels. Children shall not be inappropriately excluded from research solely on the basis of their age or developmental stage – see Article 4 for these sections. Indspire researchers should consider third party consent while ascertaining the child’s assent or dissent – see Chapter 3.
  • Lacking capacity to consent: subject to applicable legal requirements, individuals who lack capacity to consent to participate in research shall not be inappropriately excluded from research. See Chapter 3 on capacity discussion.
  • Consent must be documented: evidence of consent must be contained in a signed consent form or in documentation by the researcher of another appropriate means of consent as contextualized within Indigenous contexts. Indspire has developed some examples of consent forms that can be adapted to the research contexts. Participants must be informed how the information will be used. Refer to Chapter 3, Article 3.12, that states “…other means of providing consent …are equally acceptable…oral consent, a verbal agreement or a handshake may be required…giving and receiving of gifts symbolizes the establishment of a relationship comparable to consent” (P. 46). If these non-signed methods are used it is “advisable to leave a written statement of the information conveyed in the consent process with the participant” (P. 47). One example of seeking consent, within Indigenous contexts, may be an offering of tobacco, or a culturally relevant gift, as a symbolic gesture that reflects that practice and providing a written statement to be left with the participant(s). It would be advisable to ‘ask’ what a participant’s preferred ‘consenting’ method might be, rather than assuming that knowledge.
  • Conflicts of interests’ situations must be governed by ethical guidelines, rights and responsibilities of the researchers and how they can manage the conflict must be made clear. See Chapter 3.
  • Chapter 9, Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada has specific articles and recommendations on research processes “…designed to serve as a framework for ethical conduct of research on Aboriginal peoples…ensure, to the extent possible, that research involving Aboriginal peoples, is premised on respectful relationships [that] encourages collaboration and engagement between researchers and participants” (P. 109) without replacing ethical guidelines offered by Indigenous peoples themselves. It is expected that Indspire Research Scholars read this chapter before conducting research to become informed and to follow the guidelines in addition to those specifically developed for Indspire researchers. Some highlights of Chapter 9 relevant to Indspire research include:
    • Concepts of reciprocity, population growth themes, contribution of Indigenous researchers as academics and community researchers, communities becoming better informed about risks and benefits of research, trust relationships take time, the importance of preservation and management of collective knowledges generated from Indigenous communities, awareness of Indigenous rights (treaties, residential schools issues, colonizing experiences, desires to ‘decolonize’, assert, reclaim and develop knowledges specific to communities, and benefit from application of knowledges.
    • Connecting the main Tri-Council guidelines to the particularities of Indigenous perspectives, Indspire Foundational Guiding Principles for Indigenous educational practice, Indigenous communities and contexts: respect for persons; concern for welfare; justice etc.
    • The key is to work in collaborative and engaging research processes where Indigenous peoples are involved throughout the research to the extent that it is possible. Indspire’s defined Evaluation research as applied or action oriented process is an example of collaborative research that engages participants throughout the research process so that it builds capacity for the participants.

5.0 Application of Ethical Conduct to Indspire Research

As the preceding sections show established rationale and guidelines exist for researchers to ground their research work to ensure that the high quality of standards are applied and focused within the context of Indigenous peoples to establish that “…ethical space for dialogue on common interests and points of difference between researchers and Aboriginal communities engaged in research” (TCPS2 2014, P. 109). Indspire has developed a set of guidelines that can be applied to educational practices, as outlined here in point form.

  • Individuals will provide ongoing explanations of all aspects of any educational practices, including its purpose, sponsorship, anticipated benefits and risks, methods, community and individual involvement, and reporting plans. In so doing, individuals are required to adhere to the researchers’ guide.
  • Any community educational practice is dependent on the active involvement of the community in regards to participation and consultation.
  • Any educational practice will be suspended if deemed unacceptable by the community.
  • The educational practice relationship will be negotiated, ideally resulting in a written agreement or contract between Indspire and the participating First Nation, Métis or Inuit community or school.
  • The educational practice will take into account the knowledge and experience of the people, and respect that knowledge and experience in the research process. The incorporation of relevant traditional knowledge into all stages of research will be encouraged.
  • All educational practices must respect the privacy, protocols, dignity, and individual and collective rights of the First Nations (Status and Non-Status), Métis and Inuit Peoples involved. It must also derive from Indigenous culture and validation methods.
  • An educational practice will not begin before obtaining the informed consent of those who might be unreasonably affected within the community or school or of their legal guardian. In addition, informed consent will be obtained for any information gathering tools that are used, for the use of the information gathered and for the format used to disseminate the results.
  • Data gathered from these tools will be considered the shared ownership of both of the Indigenous community or organization that the data was collected from and Indspire, the Indigenous organization, that stores the data.[9]
  • The informed consent of participants must be obtained prior to the data collection stage of research. If anonymity cannot be guaranteed, the subject must be informed of the possible consequences of this before becoming involved in the research.
  • Indspire strives to showcase educational achievement. At times, in research reporting, there are different levels of confidentiality that cannot be protected. Key players may not be guaranteed anonymity such as a principal of a school or the chief of the community. These key players must be communicated with in advance and their permission sought.
  • No undue pressure will be applied to obtain consent for participation in any educational practice involved with Indspire.
  • Meaningful capacity development for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples will be incorporated into all of the projects. As an example, the Indspire research process has clearly laid out guidelines that include the active engagement of participants in a way that seeks to build capacity.
  • Indspire will be accountable for all decisions taken on the research of the project including those of their staff or consultants.
  • For all parties to benefit fully from the research, efforts should be made, where practical, to enhance local benefits that could result from the research.
  • Reports and summaries will be returned to the participating community or school in clear written language and format.
  • The participating First Nations, Non-Status First Nation, Métis and Inuit Peoples will have access to the research data, not just the reports[10].
  • All community protocols will be respected[11].
  • All community interests will be supported, benefits maximized and harm reduced or avoided.
  • All researchers will apply for a Criminal Record Check and Vulnerable sector screening (within three months) and provide a copy of the results to Indspire. No research will proceed without this report. Please use Indspire’s preferred check system at: mybackcheck.com

6.0 Policy Applications

The above ethical policy guidelines apply to all aspects of educational practices whether conducted directly by Indspire, or by individuals hired by Indspire for various projects. As such, all individuals will sign an acknowledgement of having read this policy and Chapter 9 of the Canadian Tri-Council Policy Statement on Research Involving Humans before the project starts.

Before a research project is started, Indspire will ensure that:

  • A standard written agreement or letter of understanding between Indspire and the participating First Nation, Métis or Inuit community, school or institution is discussed and signed;
  • Appropriate screening of a researcher is concluded.

All researchers must make certain that the proper consent, confidentiality, and ethical protocol forms are completed and applicably signed before commencing the study. The signed ethics forms are considered to be deliverables for those researchers on contract.

7.0 Informed Consent

It is the responsibility of the researcher to inform the participants in writing about the project details (data collection methods/processes and how the information will be used), acknowledging an appreciation for participating, and informing participants about consent protocol methods so that participants can choose which is method is best suited to confirm their willingness to participate.

The following information should be included in the consent forms:

  • Consent form to be on Indspire institutional letterhead
  • Research project title
  • Principal Investigator and contact information
  • Research Supervisor (Indspire contact) and contact information
  • Setting: individual or group

There are two methods of consent available to participants: Signed and Non-Signed.

7.1 Signed Consent

To ensure informed signed consent, the researcher will take the time to read and review the information on the form carefully with the participant to ensure they understand any accompanying information before proceeding.

The participant’s signature on the form indicates that they have understood to their own satisfaction the information regarding participation in the research project and agree to participate as a subject. In no way does this waive their legal rights nor release the researchers, sponsors, or involved institutions from their legal and professional responsibilities. The participant is free to withdraw from the study at any time, and/or refrain from answering any questions they prefer to omit, without prejudice or consequence. The continued participation of the participant should be as informed as their initial consent, freely asking for clarification or new information throughout their participation.

7.2 Non Signed Consent

Non-signed type of research consent process is equivalent to a signed consent form if the participant prefers to not sign a form but still wishes to participate in the project. Relevant forms of consenting such as oral consent, field notes, a return of completed questionnaires, a verbal agreement, a handshake and/or Indigenous culturally relevant symbolic sharing such as an offering of tobacco or gifts is considered a valid form of consent. Although the participant is not obligated to sign the consent, the researcher will leave a copy of the research project information that will give the participant an idea of what the research is about and what their participation will involve. In this case, the researcher will write in a note in the consent information that the participant elected this method.

7.3 Delegated Consent/Assent

For research with persons who are unable to give valid, informed consent for reasons of age, disability, or other vulnerability, the signed consent of a substitute decision-maker should be obtained. The consent form should indicate the legal relationship by which power to consent has been delegated. In addition, the researcher shall, as much as possible, explain to such prospective subjects the research and involvement being requested, and seek their cooperation (i.e. assent) both at the outset of and throughout the project. The researcher should also remain vigilant and be prepared to discontinue the research immediately if there are any indications that continued participation is becoming distressing and/or harmful to such persons.

8.0 Indspire Ethics Committee

An Indspire Ethics Committee, composed of three members appointed by the Vice President for Education, will approve educational practices based on the project description as provided in the ethics submission protocol, letter of understanding, ethics checklist, and this policy. The Indspire Ethics Committee may also require access to research records for safety and quality assurance purposes. Concerns or complaints about an educational practice may be referred to the Ethics Committee for review and clarification.

9.0 Documentation

The following documents are to be completed according to the context of the research project. These forms have been attached as appendices to the download copy of this policy at the top of this webpage:

  1. Standard Letter of Understanding for Community Participation in a Research Project
  2. Researcher Acknowledgment Form
  3. Consent Form for Individual Participation in a Research Project.
  4. Group Consent Form for Participation in a Research Project
  5. Confidentiality Form: Group Interviews for Community/School and Researcher(s).
  6. Confidentiality Form: Individual Sessions
  7. Ethical Research Check List for Researcher
  8. Ethics Submission Protocol

10.0 References

Brant-Castellano, M. (2004). Ethics of Aboriginal Research. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 1(1), 98-114.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). (2010). Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.  Retrieved June 15, 2015 from www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/pdf/eng/tcps2/TCPS_2_FINAL_Web.pdf

First Nations Ethics Guide on Research and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. (June, 2015). Retrieved
from www.afn.ca/uploads/files/fn_ethics_guide_on_research_and_atk.pdf

Assembly of First Nations. (March 2009). Ethics in First Nations Research. Assembly of First Nations, Environmental Stewardship Unit.  Retrieved from: www.afn.ca/uploads/files/rpresearch_ethics_final.pdf

First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2014). Barriers and Levers for the Implementation of OCAP. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 5(2), 1-11.

First Nation Information Governance Centre. (2014, May 23). OCAP: Ownership, Control, Access and Possession: The Path to First Nations Information Governance. Retrieved from http://fnigc.ca/resources.html

First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey Code of Research Ethics. (February, 2007). Retrieved from www.fniga.ca/sites/default/files/ENpdf/RHS_General/rhs-code-of-research-ethics-2007.pdf

Health Authority: Protocols & Principles for Conducting Research in an Indigenous Context. Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). (1996). Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Vol.1, Looking Forward, Looking Back. Ottawa, Canada Communications Group.

Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (2007, September 13). Retrieved http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

[1] First Nations Information Government Centre. (2014); Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP)

[2] Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans December, 2014. Government of Canada. www.pre.ethics.gc.ca

[3] IBID 2

[4] Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.  Retrieved June 15, 2015 from www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/pdf/eng/tcps2/TCPS_2_FINAL_Web.pdf

[5] IBID 2

[6] Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

[7] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

[8] Assembly of First Nations, Assemblée des Premières Nations. (March 2009). Ethics in First Nations Research. Environmental Stewardship Unit & First Nations Information Government Centre

[9] IBID 2

[10] IBID 2

[11] Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP): The Path to First Nations Information Governance. May 23, 2014. First Nations Information Governance Centre