Vice-Chair, Local Contexts; Associate Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies and Global Fellow in the Engelberg Center for Innovation Law and Policy, Law School at New York University.
Founded in 2010, Local Contexts is a community initiative that partners with Indigenous communities, organizations, information infrastructure providers, universities, and scholarly associations to fundamentally change the way Indigenous cultural heritage, biological, and genomic data is managed.
Indigenous heritage and data are unique in composition and content, in their social and cultural value to the communities from where they derive and to non-Indigenous publics seeking to better understand the complexity of Indigenous cultures and cultural practices. These collections are enormous, have limited information about them, and complex historical-political conditions create ethical concerns around access and future use.
Local Contexts is dedicated to working across communities to bridge past colonial practices and establish trusted and resilient digital infrastructures that support and promote Indigenous data sovereignty. We offer digital strategies for Indigenous communities, collections and research institutions, and researchers through the key innovation of the Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Biocultural (BC) Labels and Notices. Our goal is to return Indigenous cultural authority into past collections and enable proper provenance for future ethical and equitable sharing of cultural heritage, biological, and genetic resources.
Over the last two years we have been developing the Local Contexts Hub, a digital platform that supports new workflows to integrate Labels and Notices for vetting rights and protocols to support equitable, adaptable, and community-driven collections management.
The Hub was launched in beta in October 2021, and now has over 300 registered users, including 45 Indigenous community and 45 institution accounts. We are thrilled with the interest and active use of the Hub, and at the same time we know this is long work. We need to plan for generational sustainability to ensure utility, trustworthiness, and accountability of the Labels and Notices.
Our first step was creating a governance structure and establishing Local Contexts as a non-profit organization (read more here). We also need a financial plan – we need to establish a recurring revenue model so that communities receive ongoing support and training as well as Hub development and maintenance. Local Contexts and the Hub will always be free for Indigenous communities. Our plan is to sustain the organization through subscriptions by those entities that hold or generate Indigenous cultural and scientific collections and data.
This is a reparative model of care that acknowledges the violence of taking Indigenous culture. All institutions have a responsibility to firstly disclose the location of these collections and secondly to include Indigenous provenance, protocols, and permissions in the record. Indigenous communities retain their sovereign interests and determine how these collections are to be used into the future.
Today, we are releasing our Subscription agreements and pricing, alongside Member and Service Provider agreements on our new Members, Subscribers, and Service Providers page. Together, these agreements establish rights and responsibilities for Indigenous communities, museums, and repositories, and establish opportunities for scaling in collaboration with archive and repository platforms that can integrate Hub APIs and streamline adoption of Labels and Notices.
It will take some time to build our subscriber base. We are seeking start-up funds to hire an executive director, establish operational infrastructure, and cover 2-3 years of operational expenses. In addition to seeking transitional grant support, we are launching a Founding Subscriber program, and encourage subscribing organizations to consider coupling their subscription with a founding donation of US$10,000 to $100,000. There will be special considerations for the fee structure for current users of the Hub. If you have any questions, please reach out to us.
Thank you for your support! We look forward to building and sustaining an amazing service over the next year!
Building Community Into How Local Contexts Does Its Work