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NRCan’s Draft Policy on Ethics for Research Involving Indigenous Peoples and Territories

NRCan is trialing the Draft Policy on Ethics for Research Involving Indigenous Peoples and Territories for a one-year period. The intent of the Policy is to enable NRCan employees to build reciprocal relationships with Indigenous partners and facilitate positive outcomes for Indigenous communities through science, research, knowledge co-creation and exchange.

What is the Draft Policy all about?

Indigenous partners have long called for changes in how research has been, and continues to be, done as it relates to their people and territories. Whether ill intentioned or not, there are many well documented cases of poor practices performed by external to community researchers, such as fly-in and fly-out research or sharing data without consent, that are harmful to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and individuals. Many NRCan employees have heard from Indigenous partners that building meaningful relationships needs to be at the core of any proposed activity or partnership. In 2021, a proposal to develop an enabling ethics policy for the department was put forward by the Canadian Forest Service and approved by the Deputy Minister.

Under the guidance of Elder-in-Residence, Heather Poitras, an Advisory Circle was established to host discussions with partners from both within and external to the federal government. Indigenous voices were present in all groups and within all forums of discussion. On March 21, 2023, NRCan’s Elders-in-Residence and members of the Advisory Circle hosted a Sharing Circle to discuss the Policy and acknowledge the journey that had been accomplished up to that point. The Elders endorsed releasing the Policy as a draft and look forward to learning about how it is actioned by NRCan employees and received by Indigenous partners.

The objectives of the Policy are to:

  • Facilitate the growth of knowledge about Canada’s natural resources for the well-being of all Canadians
  • Enable employees to build respectful and meaningful relationships with Indigenous partners
  • Enable employees to establish mutually beneficial research collaborations with Indigenous partners
  • Build respect for and safeguard the integrity of Indigenous Data that is shared with employees
  • Establish research ethics protocols for employees to reduce risk of harming Indigenous individuals and communities

Guiding principles

A person and two children in a wreath

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Artwork of an Indigenous female elder and two Indigenous youth surrounded by a wreath of sweetgrass within natural resource surroundings with the five thematic areas of the Ethics Policy: Self-Determination, Relationship Building, Reciprocity, Knowledge Stewardship, and Scientific Integrity depicted in a ribbon throughout the image.

The artist, Michelle Buchholz, (she/her) is a Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan woman raised on Wet’suwet’en territory, now known as Smithers, B.C. She is from the Cassyex (Grizzly Bear) House and the Gitumden (Wolf) Clan. She holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Simon Fraser University and developed Visual Policy Analysis to bridge policy research, engagement and communications into a decolonial process.

The Policy outlines Guiding Principles and Practices that establish a standard of conduct for all NRCan employees in five thematic areas: Self-Determination, Relationship Building, Reciprocity, Knowledge Stewardship and Scientific Integrity.


1. Respect for Indigenous right to self-determination

  • Indigenous jurisdiction and Community Knowledge Protocols are respected and inform the development of NRCan activities involving Indigenous peoples and territories
  • Consent from Indigenous partners is sought through building good relationships

2. Respect for the unique cultures and histories of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples

  • Contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, science and languages
  • Apply a distinctions-based, place-based, and culture-based framework in all Departmental activities

Relationship Building

3. Build relationships premised on mutual respect and trust

  • Be humble, practice listening and be transparent about your intentions when seeking to build relationships
  • Foster a safe and inclusive space for all participants to share their views and perspectives

4. Steward relations in an enduring and coordinated manner

  • Coordinate internally when engaging and collaborating with Indigenous partners
  • Work with Nòkwewashk and business units to address anticipated barriers to collaboration


5. Seek opportunities to build capacity

  • Contribute to community skills development and Indigenous organizational resources to advance the long-term well-being of Indigenous communities and the potential to facilitate future opportunities

6. Establish reciprocal collaborations

  • Establish a common framework for all parties to understand the scope of a project, roles and responsibilities, potential outcomes, how Indigenous partners will benefit from the collaboration, how Indigenous partners will be acknowledged for their contributions, types of resources required for meaningful participation, and knowledge stewardship provisions

Knowledge Stewardship

7. Safeguard the integrity of Indigenous data

  • Work with Indigenous partners on how to manage data and be good stewards of Indigenous data that is shared with NRCan
  • Be transparent about the current limits of the Government of Canada to in recognizing Indigenous data sovereignty

8. Mobilize knowledge in a manner that is accessible and culturally relevant

  • Co-design knowledge mobilization strategies to ensure project outcomes and Departmental science and research supports Indigenous evidence-based decision-making

Scientific Integrity

9. Uphold ethical conduct and the Policy on Scientific Integrity

  • Conduct all actions in an ethical manner that reflects the values of the federal public service and contributes to growing public trust in federal science

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