Aboriginal traditional knowledge - including knowledge about medicinal plants and strategies for caring for the environment - is increasingly of interest to outside researchers and others. Although this interest is positive in the sense that it recognizes the value of Indigenous knowledge, it is also a cause for concern. The historical precedence of what many Aboriginal people consider to be exploitation at the hands of the European settlers has left First Nations communities with an understandable concern that their knowledge will be used without any form of compensation (14).
The issue of protecting Indigenous cultural knowledge is complex and broader than the notion of intellectual property rights. Laws protecting intellectual property (15), including patent and copyright laws, have a narrow focus that is difficult to apply to traditional knowledge.
A positive development is the creation of international agreements (16) and protocols acknowledging that Aboriginal people have the right to be consulted about the use of resources related to their traditional knowledge and that may interfere with their own traditional or contemporary use, as well as to an equitable sharing of benefits.
Although enforcing fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived through commercialization of traditional resources remains a challenge, these agreements and protocols (17) do provide the expectation of ethical and legal obligations for those who seek to benefit from the commercialization of traditional knowledge - both in terms of sharing the benefits and of respecting the resource.
Many First Nations communities are developing guidelines or community protocols to help them handle the challenges of commercialization both from within and from outside their communities (18).