Upholding Indigenous Data Sovereignty in Research

Indigenous data sovereignty addresses the misuse, cooptation and stealing of Indigenous traditional knowledge and cultural heritage. Indigenous data sovereignty is defined as “the ability for Indigenous Peoples, communities and Nations to participate, steward and control data that is created with or about themselves.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which upholds the inherent and inalienable rights of Indigenous Peoples, is foundational to recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide, and is crucial to Indigenous data sovereignty in research.

At the core of Indigenous data sovereignty, are the rights of Indigenous Peoples to collect, own, store, and use the data collected about and with Indigenous Peoples, including information about Indigenous cultures, ways of life, and territories. The disaggregation of population data and other statistics regarding Indigenous Peoples remains controversial, because it also informs the politics of recognition, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the protection of Indigenous lands.

Several resources can guide researchers  to uphold Indigenous data sovereigntyFAIR principles (i.e., Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) promote open access to data, while “CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance” (i.e., Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics) centre on how data collection and research objectives should directly benefit Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) promotes First Nations principles of OCAP®  (i.e., ownership, control, access, and possession) and training, to outline how First Nations’ information and data “will be collected, protected, used, or shared.”


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Andrew George, Unsplash)