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Understanding Indigenous data sovereignty (IDSov)


what is indigenous data sovereignty (IDSov): explained by Rōpu kohinga, Catalyst.

In November 2023, Chris Cormack (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) and Aleisha Amohia (Te Atihaunui a Paparangi, Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Hāua, Cambodia, India) attended the International Indigenous Librarians Conference (IILF). Aleisha attended IILF with support from Catalyst and funding from the Lottery Minister’s Discretionary Fund and Te Āti Hau Trust. Chris attended in his own capacity to support his Indigenous cousins. Together, they addressed 'Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Libraries' in their presentation, emphasising its relevance to Māori Data Sovereignty. Catalyst tautoko their attendance and advocates for the importance of data sovereignty. The following article is written with the permission of Chris and Aleisha.

How information sharing has changed

Information and knowledge sharing have evolved drastically from the earliest prehistoric drawing discovered 73,000 years ago. Roll forward 33,000 years, and you’ll find the earliest cave paintings. Skip ahead to around AD600-900, and books appear in China. Essentially, storytelling and information-sharing date back millennia. Today, it looks more like binary code in a server somewhere in the world, waiting to be called upon. But, fundamentally, we are still sharing information and trying to make (or use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to predict) stories and actionable insights. So, consider this: Can you identify the extent of personal data you've shared in the past five years alone? Do you know the location of the servers it's stored on and what regulations protect your data? What if you were unhappy with how your data was represented....would you want the opportunity to reclaim it?

Understanding data through a te ao Māori lens

Have you ever skipped to the last page of a book to see how the story ends? From then on, you know the outcome. You can make assumptions about what happened previously, but without understanding the story’s lineage, you don’t have an accurate representation of the actual events. Data about who we are is the same. It requires context and precise representation - from the name our parents gave us to our sense of humour when we created that not-so-professional email address ten years ago. Basically, data is a digital extension of self-identity.

Māori have deep connections with information and knowledge sharing. Furthermore, data is classed as taonga, and kaupapa Māori is always mindful of context – data is no exception. Therefore, data management practices need additional considerations for Māori to protect their data in line with the cultural significance of context, lineage, and as a treasured asset.

As outlined by Te Mana Raraunga, Māori data refers to information or knowledge in a digital or digitisable form that is about or from Māori peoples and our environments, regardless of who controls it:

  • Data from Māori (self-generated): Māori/iwi organisations and businesses.
  • Data about Māori (generated by others): Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI)
  • Data about Māori resources (self and/or others): Māori land.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and IDSov

In 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) came into play. It lays down basic standards for the survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples. While it isn’t legally binding, it packs a moral punch. In Māori context, those dealing with their data have a moral duty to protect it in line with te ao Māori principles. Indigenous data sovereignty (IDSov) is one option organisations can utilise to support this. Furthermore, there's a growing push to ensure Indigenous Peoples are the main beneficiaries of their data, with networks forming globally to safeguard against misuse.

What is data sovereignty?

Data sovereignty is often considered as when an organisation’s data is stored in another country and, therefore, follows the foreign country’s rules. But, in Chris and Aleisha’s opinion, it's more than that. In fact, true data sovereignty means you get to know where your data lives, how it's used, and who gets access to it. Transparency and choice are essential.

How can libraries and other organisations better care for Māori data?

1. Familiarise yourself with Māori Data Sovereignty

Te Mana Raraunga, Māori Data Sovereignty Network, created the Principles of Māori Data Sovereignty and highlight:

Māori Data Sovereignty refers to the inherent rights and interests that Māori have in relation to the collection, ownership, and application of Māori data.”

You can read more about the Principles of Māori data sovereignty on Te Mana Raraunga website.

2. Appreciate a non-westernised view of data collection, usage, and storage

Aleisha and Chris also shared insights into a few key te ao Māori principles to consider when handling Māori data:

  • Rangatiratanga: Control, jurisdiction, and self-determination.
  • Whakapapa: Context, data disaggregation, and future use.
  • Whanaungatanga: Balancing rights and accountabilities.
  • Kotahitanga: Benefit, build capacity and connect.
  • Manaakitanga: Respect and consent.
  • Kaitiakitanga: Guardianship, ethics and restrictions.

"He Whakaputanga was - and remains - proof the rangatiratanga and mana of Māori had been clearly articulated. New Zealand had been a sovereign land under the authority of the united tribes before 1840."

Dr Vincent O'Malley

3. Apply the CARE principles

Next, they highlighted the CARE Principles created by the Global Indigenous Data Alliance. The CARE Principles:

  • were developed with input from Te Mana Raraunga, Māori Data Sovereignty Network
  • highlight the importance of collective benefit authority, responsibility, and ethics in managing research data.
  • encourage those working with data to think about people and purpose in their efforts
  • work alongside the existing FAIR Principles.

If you are an organisation dealing with Māori data, consider how to apply the CARE Principles.

4. Challenge the way ‘it’s always been done’

Chris and Aleisha also explained all organisations, regardless of sector, can answer the following basic questions:

  • Do you know where data is being stored?
  • Can you get all of it out at any time?
  • Can you identify Indigenous data?
  • What access do you provide for indigenous people to get their data?
  • Should you even be holding it?

These questions echo the Good Data Manifesto edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann. If your answers aren’t watertight and honour kaupapa Māori, consider creating a plan of action to close the gap.

Organisations working on Indigenous data sovereignty

Chris and Aleisha wrapped up their presentation at IILF by sharing other organisations working on IDSov. For example:

The steps you can take to better protect Māori data

Protecting Māori data requires organisations and individuals to challenge westernised understandings of data and embrace the kaupapa of data in line with te ao Māori. Equally, it requires bravery to challenge ‘the norm’ and promote data management strategies. Furthermore, sovereign data hosting should be a key consideration to ensure Māori data remains in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

If you work in an organisation looking to improve your data management practices in line with te ao Māori, you can contact Chris Cormack, Kaihuawaere Matihiko, Catalyst, for a further kōrero.

What is the International Indigenous Librarians Conference (IILF)?

Te Rōpū Whakahau initiated the International Indigenous Librarians' Forum (IILF) in 1997. After collaborating with the American Indian Library Association for two years, the first Forum occurred in Auckland in November 1999. The biennial event features presentations, discussions, and cultural protocols, producing key documents that elevate the community. Each Forum has a key theme tied to the host location. IILF in Hawaiʻi was held from 27-30 November 2023. The theme "Ea: Indigenous Agency and Abundance" challenged indigenous information professionals to breathe life into institutions, fostering independence and sovereignty.