Principles of Research Ethics

Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession of Research Processes and Data

The principles of ownership, control, access, and possession of research processes and data (OCAP®)— including results—must be considered the very basis of research with Indigenous Peoples. The First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Research Protocol defines in detail these four principles, and aids researchers by posing clear questions that enable them to check whether these principles are being respected. 


Certain fundamental values rooted in Indigenous cultures must be taken into consideration in the research process. Researchers, students, and organizations must demonstrate their commitment to these values in their work. These values are respect, equity, reciprocity, equality, and transparency. 

  • Respect is more in the lines of acknowledgement and appreciation of differences […]”. Respect must continue throughout the research process, from the initial stages of contact to the relationship between the communities and the researcher, and the dissemination of results. Another specific aspect must also be considered, i.e., respect for the land and the environment, a value inherent in northern traditions.
  • Equity is the ability to give everyone what they deserve. In other words, this value refers to the sharing of knowledge, power, benefits, and spinoffs generated by research with the members of the community.
  • Reciprocity refers to the mutual relationship between the research team and the Indigenous community, one in which each party gives as much as they receive. Where there is reciprocity, there is equality between the different actors involved in the research process. This equality also applies to know-how and knowledge. In other words, Indigenous and Western knowledge is equivalent and complementary. 
  • Transparency is reflected in the commitment to bring to light the full reality. Indigenous communities expect researchers to disseminate information regarding their research in an accurate, clear, and comprehensive manner.

In short, what needs to be prioritized and promoted is the importance of building a relationship of trust among researchers, students, organizations, and the Indigenous communities. This relationship of trust is forged by upholding fundamental values throughout the research process. For an illustration of the interrelation of fundamental values and principles of research, we recommend consulting the concept map of the Research Protocol of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. The document Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans also includes a chapter on ethics in Indigenous research covering the values of respect, well-being, and justice that were presented and discussed with Indigenous groups during scientific activities on the topic.

Importance of Indigenous Know-How

Indigenous Peoples are a repository of unique, rich, centuries-old expertise. While some of this knowledge may be considered sensitive, such as knowledge related to medicinal plants and to spirituality, it is important to ensure its protection and to transfer it to the next generation. This knowledge and know-how must be respected and taken into account during research, and considered as part of a vast, organized system of knowledge. For example, Indigenous knowledge of environmental conditions and socio-economic realities is an important source of insight for research. The knowledge held by Indigenous women merits special attention due to its unique and specific nature.

As set out in A Pan-Northern Approach to Science, “traditional and local knowledge is essential to our understanding the North.” It is therefore important to take it into account, alongside Western knowledge, at every stage of research. Indigenous knowledge helps not only to enrich research and knowledge about the North, it also aids in decision making in various spheres (environmental protection, governance, the safeguarding of northern cultures), while empowering Indigenous Peoples. Western and Indigenous knowledge contribute jointly to knowledge development.

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