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What is Indigenous data sovereignty?

#collective #determination #ownership

Indigenous data governance is about shifting access and control over data away from governments and other institutions and directly to Indigenous People. This includes information about territories, natural resources and people, as well as about collectively owned knowledge and intellectual property. Considering how often the withholding of information has been used as a vector of subjugation and control worldwide, it’s a data governance approach that illustrates how important data sovereignty can be to self-determination and justice. This is one reason the approach has found its way into general discourse on data governance. Around the world, many Indigenous Peoples and tribes have sought to gain the right to have unrestricted access to data and information about themselves and their communities, as well as to independently govern the collection, ownership and use of their own data. In this context, data stewardship entails governance on behalf of (and by a community) throughout the whole data lifecycle, including to determine what data should be ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to protect community security or intellectual property. Perspectively, Indigenous data governance creates opportunities for more sustainable, consistent, accurate and relevant data management for the benefit of communities themselves. Some scholars have written on differences in epistemologies between different Indigenous communities (and differences to mainstream epistemologies) as being a factor in how virtual spaces like websites, social media platforms, or shared data are perceived conceptually. In 2020, the Global Indigenous Data Alliance has faulted mainstream open data discourse, including the well known “FAIR data principles” (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) of ignoring historical contexts and power differentials and propose additional safeguards in their “CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance” (Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, Ethics). In Canada, the First Nations Information Governance Centre applies their “OCAP data principles” (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) to determine how First Nations data is researched, collected, protected, used, or shared. In the Canadian province, British Columbia, the First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative (BCFNDGI) has created a Strategic Framework formalizes a tripartite governance approach to First Nations’ data management and establishes a common understanding of the initiative as being led and managed by First Nations. Data sovereignty initiatives are part of transforming relationships with local and national authorities to participate directly in community investment decisions, as well as in ending exploitative and inaccurate research practices that can have detrimental effects. There are learnings in this field that can advantagefully be applied to many decisions in the tech sector. Drawing on in depth conversations with Indigenous people in Aotearoa, Australia, North America, and the Pacific, Jason Edward Lewis has written a position paper for those who want to design and create AI where ‘ethical’ is defined as aligning with Indigenous perspectives.


Explaining cultural knowledge rights in a digital format

Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels is an initiative of Local Contexts, a group that supports Indigenous Peoples to manage their IP and cultural heritage in the digital world. These black and white, graphic labels can be applied to “cultural heritage that is digitally circulating”, for instance, to show whether something is sacred or is only intended for seasonal use. The labels are reminiscent of Creative Commons licenses that explain how information can be shared, but are created specifically for Indigenous communities to help educate and inform others about how they wish cultural knowledge to be used or to whom exactly material belongs. The U.S. Library of Congress uses TK labels on digitized Native American audio recordings as part of a collaborative project for historical preservation and access.


Literature reviewed for this section

This is part of a broader movement for a healthy internet. See more.