Indigenous people retain majority of intellectual property rights over research findings stemming from their traditional knowledge of local medicinal plants.

Stanley George, newly elected Chief of Whapmagoostui, a small Cree community of 850 souls in northern Quebec, did not hesitate when he put his signature at the bottom of a 40-page research agreement last September. “I remembered a phone call our community received a few years ago from a guy who said he worked with a pharmaceutical company. He was trying to get the names of the plants our healers use to treat diabetes and other ailments,” he recalls, his tone tinged with anger. “Now, with this agreement, our knowledge stands a better chance of being respected.”

The agreement ensures his community and three other Cree bands retain intellectual property rights over any findings from a team of Quebec university researchers who are investigating medicinal plants used to treat diabetes. Under the pact, the indigenous people retain 51 percent of the rights to the research, which in effect gives them veto power over scientific publications.

“I do not believe that any other legal document has gone as far as this one,” says Elizabeth Patterson, the lawyer who drafted the deal for the communities entering into the agreement (Waskaganish, Nemeska, Mistissini, and Wapmagootsui, all in Northern Quebec).

Chief George’s main concern is the protection of his culture, but the agreement also has the potential to bring a lot of wealth to his community one day. Perhaps as important, it sets a precedent for a way to do research on Native lands with the support of the local community.

> Continue reading this article in University Affairs