Decolonising Open Data

Respecting the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples are protesting the unauthorised exploitation and misuse of their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, often considered by conventional intellectual property law as being in the public domain. However, the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establishes the principle of free prior and informed consent on the use of traditional knowledge. Backed by this principle, Indigenous peoples demand the right to determine if and how elements of their intangible cultural heritage may be studied, recorded, reused, and represented by museums, especially those representing ceremonial, sacred or secret practices.

To address these issues, the MEG has adopted a policy towards indigenous intellectual and cultural property which pursues a dual objective. Firstly, it seeks to attend the damages past museum practices have caused indigenous peoples. It also aims to establish formal terms and conditions that enable indigenous peoples and culture bearers to study, record and reuse elements of their cultural heritage held in the MEG’s collections, as well as to fully profit from the cultural and economic benefits derived from this heritage.

In accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (inter alia articles 11,12, and 31) the MEG is committed to promoting the respectful use of indigenous cultural and intellectual property. The MEG fully recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to access and control their cultural heritage and determine the conditions of its ownership, use, and conservation, as well as to benefit from any cultural and economic profits it may generate.  

The guidelines of the MEG’s Indigenous cultural and intellectual property policy can be consulted in the following document (cf. p.26 and onward):

Working together

The MEG bears a moral responsibility to fully document and be accountable for the circumstances under which its collections were created in the past as well as for how they are presently created. In keeping with this, the MEG has adopted a decolonial approach, launching a series of initiatives which aim to redefine the way we manage, use, and care for our collections.

As well as being actively involved in the decolonial critique of Swiss cultural institutions, we are also part of an international network of partners carrying out research in collaboration with concerned culture bearers. The MEG also carries out co-constructed artistic and educational projects with concerned culture bearers which encourage the revitalisation of cultural practices within their societies. 

Discover some of the initiatives launched at the MEG aimed at rethinking access to collections, provenance research and collaboration with communities of origin.……

Culturally sensitive objects and ancestral remains

The MEG curates many objects that are culturally sensitive such as those pertaining to sacred practices or which are meant to be kept secret, as well as ancestral remains. We are committed to working with communities of origin to develop appropriate measures for the care, conservation, public display, access, and ownership of these objects.

Some of the information in our database may use language that is now considered outdated or even offensive. It may contain information and photographs of objects associated with ritual or ceremonial activities that have not yet obtained the consent of the concerned populations. It may also contain photographs, films, audio recordings or printed documents which contain images, voices, or names of deceased people.

The MEG therefore reserves the right to restrict the use and publication of certain images and content.

Discover how we are addressing issues of culturally sensitive objects and ancestral remains in our permanent exhibition: