Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2003


The Internet and digital technology create new possibilities for the development of cultures,communities and knowledge. Over the last twenty years there has been a great increase in interest inindigenous knowledge from a variety of groups, including academia, development agencies and thecorporate world. Within this diverse range of interests, there have been initiatives to facilitate a globalnetwork to exchange indigenous knowledge by development agencies such as the World Bank's'Indigneous Knowledge for Development Program' and UNESCO's 'Best Practices of IndigenousKnowledge' database. The development agencies appear to be mainly concerned with systematizingindigenous knowledge and looking at the notion of indigenous knowledge as forming part of globalknowledge which can be preserved, transferred, or adopted and adapted elsewhere. Multilateral andbilateral donors have also facilitated the establishment of national indigenous knowledge resource centerswhich are organizational structures through which indigenous knowledge is recorded, stored, screened forpotential economic uses at the national level, and distributed to other centers in appropriate ways.I argue that it is necessary to abandon the assumption that we can record and document indigenousknowledge and pass it 'up' to interested parties as technological packages are passed 'down' tobeneficiaries. Indigenous knowledge systems are rarely if ever isolated from the rest of the world; peoplewill incorporate and reinterpret aspects of western knowledge and practice into their traditions as part ofthe ongoing process of globalization. Meanwhile, in the commercial arena, national and multinationalcorporations have taken indigenous knowledge as a valuable commodity and are 'sharing' the knowledgein the commercial world for profit. Within the framework of social capital, I explore the sharing ofindigenous knowledge at the local level and at the global level. I argue that the embeddedness andcontextual nature of indigenous knowledge creates tensions for sharing it on a global scale. I also arguethat although there is a strong public purpose interest in greater community access and sharing ofindigenous knowledge, there should be mechanisms for the compensation of indigenous peoples for thecommercial use of their knowledge - indigenous knowledge should be treated as a form of intellectualproperty in order to increase the economic return from resources maintained by indigenous peoples. Onceindigenous communities are connected to the Internet, their opportunities for benefiting economically arebeing marginalized.


Presented at the Canadian Association for Information Science Conference, May-June, 2003, Halifax, Nova Scotia. This article appears in Proceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS, 2003 and can be found at this link.