The First Nations Principles of OCAP®

What is OCAP®?

The First Nations principles of OCAP® are a set of standards that establish how First Nations data should be collected, protected, used, or shared. They are the de facto standard for how to conduct research with First Nations.

Standing for ownership, control, access and possession, OCAP® asserts that First Nations have control over data collection processes in their communities, and that they own and control how this information can be used.

What do the OCAP® principles mean?

There are four components of OCAP®: Ownership, Control, Access and Possession.

Ownership refers to the relationship of First Nations to their cultural knowledge, data, and information. This principle states that a community or group owns information collectively in the same way that an individual owns his or her personal information.

Control affirms that First Nations, their communities, and representative bodies are within their rights in seeking to control over all aspects of research and information management processes that impact them. First Nations control of research can include all stages of a particular research project-from start to finish. The principle extends to the control of resources and review processes, the planning process, management of the information and so on.

Access refers to the fact that First Nations must have access to information and data about themselves and their communities regardless of where it is held. The principle of access also refers to the right of First Nations communities and organizations to manage and make decisions regarding access to their collective information. This may be achieved, in practice, through standardized, formal protocols.

Possession While ownership identifies the relationship between a people and their information in principle, possession or stewardship is more concrete: it refers to the physical control of data. Possession is the mechanism by which ownership can be asserted and protected.

When was OCAP® founded?

OCAP® was established in 1998 during a meeting of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey, a precursor of the First Nations Regional Health Survey (FNRHS, or RHS). Originally, OCAP® began as “OCA” with the members of the NSC affixing a “P” soon after to acknowledge the importance of First Nations’ people possessing their own data. Possession is key to OCAP®, as it is asserts and underlies ownership, control, and access. 

Who created OCAP®?

The original “OCA” acronym has been attributed to NSC member Cathryn George, who was representing the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians at the time. The Committee members later collectively added a “P” to symbolize the importance of First Nations’ people possessing their own data.

Over time the NSC evolved into the First Nations Information Governance Committee (which operated with the Assembly of First Nations), which in April 2010 became the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) an incorporated non-profit, following a mandate from the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in Assembly. During this transition the members of the First Nations Information Governance Committee became the inaugural Board of Directors for the new FNIGC.

Why was OCAP® created?

There is no law or concept in Western society that recognizes community rights and interests in their information, which is in large part why OCAP® was created. OCAP® ensures that First Nations own their information and respects the fact that they are stewards of their information, much in the same way that they are stewards over their own lands. It also reflects First Nation commitments to use and share information in a way that maximizes the benefit to a community, while minimizing harm. 

As the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1999) pointed out, First Nations people have historically had a problematic relationship with researchers, academics, and other data collectors:

“In the past, Aboriginal people have not been consulted about what information should be collected, who should gather that information, who should maintain it, and who should have access to it. The information gathered may or may not have been relevant to the questions, priorities and concerns of Aboriginal peoples. Because data gathering has frequently been imposed by outside authorities, it has met with resistance in many quarters.”

First Nations have often complained that they have been the focus of too much research (i.e. “Researched to Death”), that research projects are too often conducted by non-First Nations people, that research results are not returned to communities, and that the research does not benefit First Nations people or communities.

Prominent examples of this can be found in the Barrow Alcohol Study of alcoholism in Alaska in the 1970s, the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation “Bad Blood” research of the 1980s, and the diabetes study of the Havasupai Tribe in Arizona during the 1990s. This is another motivation for the creation of the First Nations principles of OCAP®.

How does OCAP® apply to First Nations?

The ideas inherent in OCAP® are not new, in fact they represent themes and concepts that have been advocated for and promoted by First Nations people for years.

That’s why over the past two decades the principles of OCAP® have been successfully applied in dozens of First Nations communities across Canada, as communities and individuals have increasingly asserted jurisdiction over their own data. First Nations communities have passed their own privacy laws, established research review committees, entered data-sharing agreements, and setting standards to ensure OCAP® compliance.

It’s important to note that although there is a good degree of consensus surrounding OCAP®, each First Nations community or region may have a unique interpretation of the OCAP® principles. This is because OCAP® is not a doctrine or a prescription: it respects the right of First Nations communities in making its decisions regarding why, how, and by whom information is collected, used, or shared.

Can OCAP® be applied to other Indigenous communities?

OCAP® is an expression of First Nations jurisdiction over information about their communities and its community members. As such OCAP® operates as a set of specifically First Nations—not Indigenous—principles.

How does OCAP® apply to researchers?

OCAP® respects that rights of First Nations communities to own, control, access, and possess information about their peoples is fundamentally tied to self-determination and to the preservation and development of their culture.

This is why anyone interested in conducting research with a First Nation should acquaint themselves with OCAP® before they begin. A good place to start would be The Fundamentals of OCAP® course, an online course developed by FNIGC in conjunction with Algonquin College that provides a comprehensive overview of the history of OCAP® and its applications in research and information governance today.

What does the "®" symbol next to the OCAP® name and logo mean?

The “R” surrounded by a circle (®) is an international intellectual property symbol that signifies that the OCAP® name and logo are registered trademarks of FNIGC. The registered trademark symbol next to the OCAP® name and logo indicates that the principles OCAP® and the OCAP® logo cannot be used without FNIGC’s permission as the trademark owner. In August 2015 the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) granted registered trademark status to the OCAP® name (and PCAP in French) marking the end of a four-year process launched by FNIGC under the direction of its Board of Directors.

It is not uncommon for people to confuse trademarks with other forms of intellectual property, such as patents or copyrights. Although all of these concepts exist for the same reason—to protect intellectual property—they are different in important ways.

  • Trademarks may be applied to words, sounds, or designs that are used to distinguish the goods, services or concepts of one organization from another. The Coca-Cola name, McDonald’s golden arches, the Starbucks logo, “Certified Organic” and “Fair Trade” are examples of well-known trademarks.

  • Copyrights apply to original literary, dramatic, artistic,or musical works, which can includebooks, poems, computer programs, movies, plays, scripts, paintings, drawings, photographs, songs, and original scores. Copyright law protects all original creative works and prohibits others from copying the works without permission from the copyright holder.
  • Patents apply to newly developed technologies or improvements on existing technologies, products, or processes. Patents provide a legally protected, time-limited, exclusive right to make, use and sell an invention.

Who owns the trademark on OCAP®?

FNIGC currently holds the registered trademark for the OCAP® name and logo, and is charged with protecting the integrity of both on behalf of all First Nations people.

This process began in 2011, when FNIGC’s Board of Directors approved a plan to protect and ensure the integrity of OCAP® after it was discovered that researchers, academics, and others were misrepresenting and distorting its original intent. This trademark process was completed in August 2015, enabling better safeguards for the protection of the integrity of OCAP®.  

Securing the registered trademarks for the OCAP® name and logo was a lengthy but essential process that will serve as a valuable sword to defend the standards and values of OCAP®, while also acting as an educational tool in—and outside of—First Nations communities. 

How do I cite OCAP®?

If you wish to use the OCAP®/PCAP® name or logo in your publication you must include a citation that states “OCAP® is a registered trademark of the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC)” and include a reference to our website ( so that the definition of OCAP® can be fully understood by the reader.

How can I learn more about OCAP®?

You can start by browsing FNIGC’s website, which in addition to this dedicated OCAP® section includes links to videos which help explain the history and importance of the First Nations principles of OCAP® (“Understanding the First Nations Principles of OCAP®: Our Road Map to Information Governance”). 

We also suggest you read two papers FNIGC commissioned on OCAP® which track the development and implementation of OCAP® in detail: Ownership, Control, Access and Possession: The Path to First Nations Information Governance and Barriers and Levers for the Implementation of OCAP®.        

For those looking for a more in-depth understanding of OCAP® suggests The Fundamentals of OCAP® course, an online course developed in conjunction with Algonquin College that provides a comprehensive overview of the history of OCAP® and its applications in research and information governance today.

If you have any further questions about the First Nations principles of OCAP®, please contact ocap [at] fnigc [dot] ca