Cultural Protocols

If you want to work with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities and you have questions around how to do this, there are a number of protocols that have been developed as a best practice model for artists. You may also want to start by reading our information sheet about Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property so you have an understanding of the the rights that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have, and want to have, to protect their traditional arts and culture.

It is important to be aware that Indigenous protocols cannot answer all the questions you may be faced with, as every Indigenous community, organisation and individual is different. However, Indigenous protocols are an excellent resource as they provide:

  • a starting point for solving problems,
  • a set of guidelines and principles to help you think about a project or the nature of collaboration,
  • questions to ask the Indigenous participants, and
  • legal and non-legal issues to be considered.

There are a number of different types of Indigenous protocols:

  1. Protocols for artists
  2. Protocols for arts dealers
  3. Protocols and information for consumers
  4. Protocols for cultural institutions
  5. Protocols for language projects

Protocols for artists and those working with them

Australia Council for the Arts - Indigenous protocol guides

The Australia Council for the Arts  published a set of Indigenous protocol guides in 2002, written by Indigenous lawyers Robynne Quiggin and Terri Janke. Those protocols provide information and advice on respecting Indigenous culture and heritage.

There are five sets of protocols specific to the following Indigenous art forms which you can download at this page:

  • Visual arts
  • Performing arts
  • Writing
  • Media arts
  • Music arts

National Association for the Visual Arts – Valuing Art, Respecting Culture: Protocols for Working With the Australian Indigenous Visual Arts and Craft Sector

Under NAVA's Code of Practice, Other Codes section, this document sets out protocols both to guide non-Indigenous people in their relationships with Indigenous artists and communities, and assist Indigenous artists to define their rights.

Screen Australia (Terri Janke) – Pathways and Protocols: A filmmaker’s guide to working with Indigenous people, culture and concepts

Screen Australia’s guide provides comprehensive information for all filmmakers working with Indigenous content and communities, providing advice about the ethical and legal issues involved when transferring Indigenous cultural material to the screen. The guide includes information on documentary and drama productions, including short dramas, feature films and television drama. Drawing upon real case studies as practical examples, the guide assists and encourages recognition and respect for the images, knowledge and stories of Indigenous people.

Arts Tasmania - Respecting Cultures, Working with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community and Aboriginal Artists

This publication provides a specific Tasmanian perspective as a companion text for the Australia Council's protocols. Respecting Cultures promotes greater awareness of the protocols needed to ensure that Aboriginal artists are acknowledged and their intellectual property and culture is respected and protected.

Protocols for arts dealers

Indigenous Art Code

The Indigenous Art Code is a voluntary code to regulate the conduct of participants in the Indigenous art industry. Its main aims are to ensure fair and ethical trade with artists, transparency with the promotion and sale of artwork as well as a fair and equitable dispute resolution system for disputes arising under the code.

City of Melbourne - Code of Practice for Galleries and Retailers of Indigenous Art

The City of Melbourne has developed a code of practice for galleries and retailers of Indigenous art. The code is a guide outlining ethical and appropriate ways to display and sell authentic Indigenous art and work with Indigenous artists.

Protocols and information for consumers

National Indigenous Consumer Strategy - Taking Action, Gaining Trust: National Indigenous Consumer Strategy – Action Plan 2014-2016

The National Indigenous Consumer Strategy (NICS) was developed by the Standing Committee of Officials of Consumer Affairs (SCOCA), who represents all the Commonwealth, State and Territory government consumer protection agencies. The NCIS aims at improving the consumer outcomes of Indigenous Australians by encouraging consumer protection agencies to share information and education materials, collaborating in the enforcement of consumer rights and laws, and co-ordinating research, policy development and consumer education initiatives. The NCIS was originally created in 2005 as a three year strategy. However an updated action plan for 2014-2016 has recently been developed.

Australian Government, Department of Environment and Heritage – Welcome to Country: Respecting Indigenous Culture for Travellers in Australia

This information brochure is aimed at providing travellers in Australia with some key protocols to follow in order to ensure respect for Indigenous culture. It is framed around three main principles:

  • Relationship – Recognise Indigenous people’s relationship and connection to the land.
  • Responsibility – Acknowledge the ongoing responsibility Indigenous people have to their country, and recognise your own responsibility to travel thoughtfully.
  • Respect – Respect Aboriginal beliefs associated with country and culture. As a visitor, respect the wishes of your hosts and and restrictions that you have been asked to observe.

Protocols for cultural institutions

Museums Australia Inc (Qld) – Taking the Time

These resource guidelines are aimed at assisting cultural institutions in developing links with the broader community.  They are intended to be used to support non-Indigenous cultural heritage workers in small museums throughout Australia who wish to work with culturally diverse communities, including Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resources Network (ATSILIRN) – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services

The ATSILIRN Protocols are intended to guide libraries, archives and information services in appropriate ways to interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the communities which the organisations serve, and to handle materials with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content.

They are a guide to good practice which will need to be interpreted and applied in the context of each organisation’s mission, collections and client community.

Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA) - Cultural Institutions, Law and Indigenous Knowledge: A Legal Primer on the Management of Australian Indigenous Collections

This document examines some of the legal issues which arise for cultural institutions and other bodies in the acquisition, use and reproduction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material. The term ‘cultural material’ is used broadly to refer to collection items that reproduce, record or depict Indigenous people, cultures, knowledge and experiences; in some cases, this is highly sensitive of restricted information. It includes artistic outputs and archival research material.

Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) - Guide for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies

The AIATSIS guidelines provide recommendations and suggestions for achieving the best standards of ethical research in Indigenous studies. The document is laid out with a series of principles, which are accompanied by a brief definition and some practical applications.

Museums Australia – Continuing Cultures, Ongoing Responsibilities: principles and guidelines for Australian Museums working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

The Continuing Cultures, Ongoing Responsibilities document is intended to guide museums and galleries in framing their own procedures for dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the management of their cultural heritage.

Ask First: a guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values

The Australian Heritage Museum guide provides a practical tool for land developers, land users and managers, cultural heritage professionals and many others who may have an impact on Indigenous heritage. This title – ‘Ask First’ is intended to highlight the guides focus on consultation and negotiation with Indigenous stakeholders as being key to addressing heritage issues.

Protocols for language projects

Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Languages and Culture (FATSILC)

This protocol is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their consultants working together to produce language materials, for example linguists, schools and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) specialists. The FATSIL guide covers protocols for producing language materials at a local level, rather than through one of the major publishing houses. The aim of this protocol is to encourage positive working relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their consultants. Any language materials produced should recognise the cultural and intellectual property rights of the language community. The FATSIL protocol accompanies, and should be read in conjunction with, the model language agreement prepared by the Arts Law Centre of Australia