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Indigenous Data Sovereignty

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posted on 2023-05-22, 19:04 authored by Russo Caroll, S, Kukutai, T, Margaret WalterMargaret Walter
Indigenous Peoples have always been “data warriors”.1 Our ancient traditions recorded and protected information and knowledge through art, carving, song, chants and other practices. 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 is a relatively recent one, with the first major publication on the topic only appearing in 2016.2 Indigenous Data Sovereignty 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.3, 4, 5 Indigenous Data Sovereignty 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. Indigenous Data Sovereignty 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.6, 7

In practice, Indigenous Data Sovereignty 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 is seen as a key lever for addressing Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Indigenous data governance harnesses Indigenous Peoples’ values, rights and interests to guide decision-making about how their data are collected, accessed, stored and used.8 Enacting Indigenous data governance 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. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of enhancing Indigenous data governance as well as the pressing need for increased data for governance and decision-making.9


Publication title

The Indigenous World




D Mamo






School of Social Sciences


The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)

Place of publication




Rights statement

Copyright 2021 The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Other Indigenous not elsewhere classified

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