Core Objectives

International discussions[1] have identified four core objectives relating to Indigenous data sovereignty:

1. Data for sovereignty. Data contributes to and informs Indigenous nations’ sovereignty. The right to govern data derived from their communities and lands is fundamental to exerting control, authority, and self-determination as Indigenous nations and peoples.

2. Data collection and access. US federal, state, and local governments officially collect a wealth of data pertaining to Indigenous nations, communities, households, and individuals for policy, planning, and research purposes. Still other data are captured “unofficially,” via transactions, social media, and telecommunications (including satellite-based data collection); these data, including ‘big data,’ typically are leveraged for commercial purposes. Currently, only a small proportion of Indigenous relevant data are accessible to Indigenous nations and peoples for their own purposes and benefit. Fully engaging with existing data requires that these data first be made available in usable forms, and secondly that Indigenous nations have workforces that can actively engage in collecting, managing, and analyzing data to meet their needs.

3. Data storage and security. The rise of the open data movement and ongoing migration to cloud-based models of data storage generate concerns around the security and privacy of Indigenous peoples and nations’ data. Indigenous nations and peoples also must contend with the legal and privacy frameworks to which the data are subject to in other jurisdictions. In addition, Indigenous nations must negotiate how to govern sensitive community data such as information about cultural practices and sacred places and objects.

4. Data as intellectual property. Articulating Indigenous peoples’ rights to and interests in data in an intellectual property framework is necessary for the protection of Indigenous knowledge systems and lifeways.


[1] In July 2015 a group of Indigenous researchers and practitioners from the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia participated in a workshop on Data Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples (hosted by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia). The workshop considered the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) for the collection, ownership and application of data pertaining to Indigenous peoples and what these might mean for Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty over data that are about us, our territories, and ways of life. It built on previous workshops organized by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on “data collection and disaggregation” (in 2004), on “indicators of wellbeing” (in 2006), and on “development with culture and identity” (in 2010). At these events, Indigenous representatives had raised concerns about the relevance of existing statistical frameworks for reflecting their worldviews and highlighted their lack of participation in data collection processes and governance.