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)

Indigenous-led efforts to conserve caribou, highlight efforts to sustain cultural and ecological connections among First Nations and endangered species. According to a 2013 report by the Assembly of First Nations and the David Suzuki Institute, in Canada, “boreal woodland caribou herds share the land with approximately 300 First Nation communities.” Both boreal caribou and Southern Mountain caribou, in British Columbia, Canada, are listed as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Caribou contribute to the lives and cultures of Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island (the continent of North America). For example, caribou is a traditional food among the Inuit and the parts of the caribou that are not eaten, such as the skin and fur, are transformed into material for tents, clothing, and bedding. The hunting and harvest of caribou play social and spiritual roles in maintaining kinship and community relationships.

Indigenous led-conservations efforts are saving caribou from local extinction (also referred to as extirpation), thus contributing to the protection of Indigenous self-determination. For example, the size of the Klinse-Za caribou herds (one of 54 subpopulations of caribou in British Columbia) on the traditional territories of the West Moberly First Nations and the Salteau First Nations, have declined from approximately “250 in the 1990s to only 38 in 2013.” However, about nine years of conservation efforts by these First Nations have increased the size of the herd to 101 caribou in 2021, and more recently, to 114 caribou . The increase in the numbers of caribou, is attributed to the leadership and conservation actions undertaken through a conservation partnership agreement between West Moberly First Nation and the Salteau First Nation. The partnership agreement provides habitat protection for the Klinse-Za and for other caribou subpopulations in neighbouring areas. In addition, the agreement aims to “stabilize and expeditiously grow the population” to self-sustaining levels and to maintain consistency between traditional caribou hunting practices and harvesting practices and Aboriginal and Treaty rights. The conservation agreement also invites the reinstatement of cultural traditions of caribou hunting.

The degradation of caribou habitats has contributed to the steep decline of caribou in British Columbia as well as in other parts of Canada. For example, in Northern Québec and Labrador, the George River caribou herd has declined by 98% since 2001. Although the numbers of caribou in the herd went up slightly in 2020, they went down again in 2022, and while non-Indigenous people are banned from hunting the caribou, the Innu and Cree Nations are also taking measures to curb hunting. On January 24, 2022, the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and Innu Nation of Québec jointly signed the Maamuu nisituhtimuwin/ Matinueu-mashinaikan atik u e uauinakanit or mutual understanding, that “establishes mutually agreed upon terms by which Innu communities in Québec will be able to access caribou within the Cree traditional territory of Chisasibi, Eeyou Istchee.”

Indigenous-led caribou conservation protects not only the caribou, but also Indigenous ways of living with the land, and “maintaining balance” between Indigenous cultures and biodiverse ecosystems.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Orna Wachman, Pixabay)

Recently, the United Nations (UN) chastised the governments of Denmark and Greenland for undertaking mining without having first consulted with the Inuit who make up the majority of Greenland’s inhabitants. The UN highlighted colonialism as a root cause for these countries’ errors in not seeking the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples. Consultation, however, should not be conflated with or considered a replacement for FPIC.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is embedded within fundamental human rights to self-determination. The framework by which FPIC is legally implemented internationally, includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Convention (ILO 169), and the Convention of Biological Diversity. The FPIC process is not just a means to consult Indigenous Peoples and seek consent about a project; rather, “it is also a process in itself, one by which Indigenous peoples are able to conduct their own independent and collective discussions and decision-making” at their own pace and using culturally appropriate approaches on any matters that concern them.

Engaging in an FPIC process may involve participatory processes and does not guarantee consent by Indigenous communities. Outcomes of an FPIC process include obtaining consent of an Indigenous community about undertaking a project, making changes to the conditions under which a project is intended to happen, or withholding consent to a project or activity and doing so at any time.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Johannes Plenio, Unsplash)

Marine conservation that is led by or that involves Indigenous Peoples requires protecting vital community resources and traditional territories and strengthening broader conservation initiatives around the world. A Marine Protected Area (MPA) “is part of the ocean that is legally protected and managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature.“ Indigenous Marine Protected Areas also connect marine conservation efforts with Indigenous cultural values and Indigenous self-determination.

Strategies undertaken by Indigenous communities to protect coastal waters and marine life include:

  • traditional resource management.
  • environmental conservation.
  • data collection and monitoring.
  • networking and collaboration with non-Indigenous supporters.
  • reinvestment into education and strengthening community building.

Indigenous Marine Protected Areas in Canada have involved co-management among First Nations’ and Canadian governments. For example, MPAs, that are a part of the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative, are co-managed by the Council of the Haida Nation with the Government of Canada, according to what values the Indigenous communities want to be protected. Values may include supporting food security; protecting coastal areas and species; protecting coastal jobs; and keeping ecosystems productive and resilient.

Networks have enabled First Nations to effectively plan for the ongoing protection of marine areas by creating specific zones to limit activities for community use or halt all activities to prevent fishing. For example, The MPA Network of the BC Northern Shelf is a “collection of individual marine protected areas that operates cooperatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels, in order to fulfill ecological aims more effectively and comprehensively than individual sites could alone.” Network planning on the BC Northern Shelf began in 2011 with the National Framework for Canada’s Marine Protected Areas and it now involves a partnership of multiple First Nations, the BC Provincial government, and the Canadian government.

The Eastern Shore Islands (ESI) of Nova Scotia is “an area of interest for MPA establishment.” Mi’kmaq communities are seeking out ways that they can become more involved in the governance of MPAs in Atlantic Canada. However, the systemic barriers to enhancing the inclusion of Mi’kmaq Peoples alongside non-Mi’kmaq peoples involve “limited understanding of Mi’kmaq culture, governance, and rights.” In turn, the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the Eastern Shore Islands is also linked to the resurgence of Mi’kmaq culture and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan was implemented in November 2016. As a $1.5 billion initiative, the Oceans Protection Plan is designed to provide protection to coastal regions and waterways and promote economic growth across Canada. In its first five years, the Oceans Protection Plan has funded various pilot projects, implemented in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to address marine safety, marine emergency response training, enhanced situational awareness through web-based platforms, environmental protection priorities, and create Indigenous-led Coast Guard Auxiliary Chapters.

While information available about Marine Protected Areas focuses heavily on co-management initiatives among Indigenous and local non-Indigenous communities, more examples are needed of marine protection initiatives that highlight Indigenous-led practices and that prioritize values of Indigenous Peoples.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Sharissa Johnson, Unsplash)

On March 4, 2023, the United Nations passed the High Seas Treaty to protect all parts of the world’s oceans defined by international law as “the high seas.” Up until then, only 1% of the high seas, an area where all countries had “a right to fish, ship and do research,” was protected from exploitation. It took over a decade for the UN High Seas Treaty to be developed as a legal instrument of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty is getting praise from diverse groups for its potential to prevent further loss of species at risk, and biodiversity loss, in general; however, the treaty is not yet at the stage of implementation.

The area covered by the UN High Seas Treaty has significant impact on the climate. The high seas “takes up 90% of the excess heat and around 25% of the CO2  generated by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.” The treaty intends to protect the high seas from the ongoing effects of climate change such as pollution and ocean acidification, as well as the threats of overfishing and other forms of resource extraction. The treaty also aligns with the UN’s COP 15 Global Biodiversity Framework, established in December 2022; member nations agreed to “30 x 30” – that is, protecting 30% of the ocean, coastal areas, and lands by 2030.

The Carbon Brief offers more details as to the development, content, and next steps for the Treaty.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Abigail Lynn, Unsplash)

COP 27 showed that although there is “increasing mention and integration of gender in nationally determined contributions over time,” climate change continues to reinforce gender inequality and disparities in socio-economic, health, and leadership initiatives. Various UNFCCC reports  show how women and non-binary people from around the world, are made vulnerable by climate change, given the “interplay of gender norms and social norms.” Referred to as “solution multipliers,” women and gender minorities could be in a better position to effect solutions and influence climate mitigation and adaptation policies if they were included in “decision-making at all levels.”

Women living in households experiencing poverty are over represented in the world’s population and are more likely to experience climate hazards than people living in wealthy households. According to the World Bank, “nearly 2.4 billion women globally lack the same economic rights as men.” Indigenous women leaders state that climate change threatens the ties that connect Indigenous Peoples together (e.g., cultural identity, attitudes towards elders, and natural resources), and put pressure on community practices of hunting, as well as practices of gathering seeds and plants.

Gender-based health disparities are worsened by climate change. The Lancet reports that “there is an unacceptable scarcity of research on climate change health effects for non-binary people, who might also be particularly vulnerable as a result of compounding discrimination.”  In turn, research data must be disaggregated for gender in order to facilitate “gender-sensitive assessments, and gender-responsible interventions” that are critical for effective, gender-responsive policies on climate adaptation and mitigation. There is also a lack of disaggregated and longitudinal population health data addressing the experiences of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people; this translates into a “lack of strength-based and community-driven health indicators.” Chapter 2 of the Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate Report (2022) also notes how First Nation, Inuit, and Métis men, women, boys, girls, and gender-diverse people experience health impacts differently, and that research does not adequately respect the unique cultures and needs of these communities.

Increasing funding to gender-based Indigenous climate change initiatives is needed. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the Government of Nepal have implemented climate finance to enhance collaboration with Indigenous Peoples; they intend to secure “collective tenure rights as well as the full participation of [I]ndigenous and tribal women and youth in decision making processes.” The Government of Canada funds Indigenous environmental leadership through several initiatives. It would be worthwhile for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments to work with Indigenous communities and ensure that gender-inclusive initiatives are incorporated in climate leadership initiatives.

Indigenous Peoples are responsible for stewarding the biodiversity of approximately one-third of the world’s ecosystems, but receive only 17% of climate funds intended for them, and Indigenous women receive only 5% of this funding. This lack of funding reinforces barriers that limit the participation and engagement of Indigenous women and gender minorities in climate action, thus reinforcing gender inequality in the context of climate change.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Ken Kahiri, Unsplash)

On December 16, 2022, the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), Csaba Kőrösi, proclaimed the start of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022-2032. The aim of the International decade is “to secure the rights of Indigenous peoples to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages.” In his speech, Kőrösi called upon the UN’s Member States to work with Indigenous communities to: “[s]afeguard [I]ndigenous peoples’ rights” to learn and access resources in their native languages; “[e]nsure that Indigenous peoples and their knowledge are not exploited…[and] meaningfully consult Indigenous peoples, engaging with them in every stage of decision-making processes.”

The Language Conservancy estimates that Indigenous languages are lost at the rate of nine languages per year and that “[b]y 2080 the rate will rise by [sixteen] languages per year – one every two weeks.” The Language Conservancy provides a series of maps that depict centuries of language loss from the 1920s to present, drawn from the research by Gary F. Simons. The “growing wave” of Indigenous language loss is caused by the impacts of colonization, the rapid development of human settlements and by choices to leave the countryside for the city. Language loss is further exacerbated by climate change, especially as Indigenous peoples are forced to migrate and resettle due to adverse climate events.

Policies and educational programs to revitalize Indigenous languages are crucial to fight language loss and to prevent more than half of all languages becoming extinct over the next century.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Satyam HCR, Unsplash)

The 2021 IPCC Report confirmed the extent of human impacts on the changing climate and how cities are considered to be crucial sites for climate adaptation solutions. However, the contributions and experiences of urban Indigenous Peoples are often excluded from studies of climate adaptation pathways. While the 2021 IPCC Report recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ presence within cities, it focuses on the value of “Indigenous and local knowledge” rather than delving into urban Indigenous-led initiatives.

As a topic, urban Indigenous-led climate adaptation pathways is largely understudied. While existing research about urban Indigenous climate adaptation pathways focuses heavily on urban agriculture and food systems of sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific, and Asia, a key gap in the literature is “the impacts of climate change on urban Indigenous peoples and how they are included within local government-led climate adaptation planning, policies, and practices.”

Settler colonialism – an ongoing practice whereby Indigenous peoples and cultures are replaced with a settler society – is a dominant theme in the literature, and is recognized as a cause for the ongoing exclusion of Indigenous knowledge in urban climate adaptations. Settler colonialism has actively sought to “erase the idea of Indigenous presence in cities; ” this phenomenon negatively affects the relationship between city governments and Indigenous peoples, and limits trust, consent, accountability, and reciprocity across cultures and governments. More research is needed that explores how Indigenous Peoples occupy different roles in the development of climate adaptation practices in cities, and how Indigenous-led practices are informed by different identities, narratives, and experiences. Approaches to climate adaptation that engage with diverse knowledge and experiences of urban Indigenous Peoples could offer opportunities for innovation in urban climate change policy and practice.

Parks are an important climate adaptation solution for cities. Urban parks initiatives offer promising examples of Indigenous-led climate adaptation in cities. Urban parks also enable the public to learn more about Indigenous approaches to conservation.  For example, Discovery Park, the largest urban park in Seattle, Washington, is home to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Centre, where ecological restoration projects have attempted to incorporate Indigenous perspectives at the start of any project. Researchers have identified that historical relationships between land and Indigenous Peoples, kinship ties, and environmental narratives are primary indicators to “indigenize restoration” at Discovery Park. At Canada’s first national urban park, The Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto, the visitor’s centre, archaeological fieldwork, and restoration projects were undertaken in partnership with the First Nations Advisory Circle comprising of the seven Williams Treaties First Nations, as well as the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River, and The Huron-Wendat Nation.

In order for urban Indigenous peoples to both influence and benefit from climate adaptation policies and practices, city governments need to better engage with them. Cities should recognizes the diversity of Indigenous peoples in their midst, the different experiences, vulnerabilities, and identities of Indigenous peoples, and how these may intersect in different ways, in relation to climate change, and to historical and environmental narratives about place.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Jeffrey Eisen, Unsplash)


Urban change, in the form of population growth and decline, turnovers in government leadership, and land use changes, in conjunction with climate change impacts, put city infrastructure at risk. Urban climate adaptation pathways enable cities to determine the “sequences of actions which can be implemented progressively, depending on future dynamics” to adapt to climate change.

Climate adaptation pathways are often outlined in urban climate adaptation plans that:

  • provide direction and identify actions to be taken now and to be implemented in the future when certain events occur, or conditions emerge and under specific parameters.
  • Recognize conditions of uncertainty and how to incorporate flexibility in planning.
  • May or may not included guidelines for implementation.

In Canada, the federal government, provinces, and territories implement The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Canadian municipalities, however, develop their own climate adaptation plans. The Climate Risk Institute, in partnership with the Canadian Institute of Planners, with funding from Natural Resources Canada, has developed an interactive document – Adaptation Resource Pathway for Planners (ARPP) – to help planners to navigate available resources about climate change adaptation and planning.

According to the UN report Cities Settlements and Key Infrastructure (AR66 Report Chapter 6.3, p. 942) “for all urban populations, both currently deployed and currently planned adaptations are not able to meet the current levels of risk associated with climate change.” In turn, climate adaptation plans must be buttressed by climate change mitigation practices and other efforts to prevent climate damage and loss.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Adrian Schwarz, Unsplash)

During the UN Forum Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Convention of the Parties (COP)15, held in late 2022, Indigenous advocates centred “the loss and damage to Indigenous rights” and the ongoing need for global action on climate change. While numerous challenges to climate change remain in 2023, Indigenous-led solutions to climate change are critical to ending further biodiversity loss.

According to the OHCHR, COP27 revealed that signatories of the Paris Agreement made little progress on their pledges to embed Indigenous rights in climate actions. The Paris Agreement included reference to Indigenous rights. However, for some Indigenous advocates at COP27, the emphasis on climate financing overshadowed any efforts to include Indigenous perspectives, and discussions about Indigenous rights in climate policy and decision making. For instance, according to Indigenous Climate Action, the development of a loss and damage fund “in which countries responsible for high carbon emissions compensate vulnerable countries suffering from climate impacts,” centered economics, and consequently, shifted attention away from Indigenous rights and further support for the role of Indigenous peoples in protecting biodiversity. And while the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) considered the establishment of the loss and damage fund to be a success, they hoped the funds would also “directly reach Indigenous Peoples.”  Cultural Voices recorded a number of Indigenous voices from around the world, sharing perspectives about key decisions made at COP27.

The Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was an agreement made by nearly 200 countries at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December 2022. Nations committed to engage in activities that would prevent further land and ocean biodiversity loss, on 30% of the planet, by 2030. Although Indigenous leaders considered the GBF to be a landmark agreement, they were concerned by the lack of clear targets to prevent the extinction of endangered species. Furthermore, Indigenous leaders were concerned that the GBF would lump all Indigenous people in a global pan-Indigenous identity, as expressed through Indigenous rights, rather than recognizing the distinct cultural and social contexts and traditions of thousands upon thousands of Indigenous nations worldwide.

According to the U.S.-based United Nations Foundation Climate and Environment Experts, issues at the forefront of climate action in 2023 include climate finance, food systems, and subnational action on climate change. However, rather than focusing solely on general climate change issues and failed attempts at embedding Indigenous rights into UN policies on climate change, more attention should be placed on Indigenous-led climate solutions in the fight to protect biodiversity. For example, Canada’s Indigenous-led Natural Climate Solutions initiative shifts the focus from policy to practical on-the-ground efforts in biodiversity protection.

While some nations continue their efforts to pressure governments to embed the laws of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at the bare minimum, in climate policy and climate action, local and national programs may provide more tangible support for Indigenous governance authority and nationhood and prevent further biodiversity loss into the next decade.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Benjamin Voros, Unsplash)