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Indigenous data sovereignty

Indigenous Peoples have always been ‘data warriors’. Our ancient traditions recorded and protected information and knowledge through art, carving, song, chants and other practises. Deliberate efforts to expunge these knowledge systems were part and parcel of colonisation, along with state-imposed practices of counting and classifying Indigenous populations. As a result, Indigenous Peoples often encounter severe data deficits when trying to access high quality, culturally relevant data to pursue their goals, but an abundance of data that reflects and serves government interests regarding Indigenous Peoples and their lands. The concept of Indigenous data sovereignty (ID-SOV) is a relatively recent one, with the first major publication on the topic only appearing in 2016.1 ID-SOV is defined as the right of Indigenous Peoples to own, control, access and possess data that derive from them, and which pertain to their members, knowledge systems, customs or territories.2,3,4 ID-SOV is supported by Indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights of self-determination and governance over their peoples, territories and resources as affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as in domestic treaties. ID-SOV recognises that data is a strategic resource and provides a framework for the ethical use of data to advance collective Indigenous wellbeing and self-determination.5,6 In practice ID-Sov means that Indigenous Peoples need to be the decision-makers around how data about them are used. Given that most Indigenous data is not in the possession of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous data governance (ID-GOV) is seen as a key lever for addressing ID-SOV. ID-GOV harnesses Indigenous Peoples’ values, rights and interests to guide decision-making about how their data are collected, accessed, stored, and used.7 Enacting ID-GOV results in Indigenous control of Indigenous data through both internal Indigenous community data governance policies and practices and external stewardship of Indigenous data via mechanisms and frameworks that reflect Indigenous values.
Chapter in Book
Type of thesis
Kukutai, T., Carroll, S. R., & Walter, M. (2020). Indigenous data sovereignty. In D. Mamo (Ed.), The Indigenous World 2020 (34th ed., pp. 654–662). Copenhagen, Denmark: IWGIA.
© The authors and The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), 2020.