Connecting Issues: Data Management and Sovereignty

Work that links Indigenous communities and universities in research must address issues of data sovereignty and its role in data management and knowledge co-production

University-based researchers have a legacy of extractive research practices in which information is taken from Indigenous peoples without proper permissions and protocols and used in non-approved ways. Even in longstanding and respectful partnerships, university-based researchers can easily take such issues for granted and replicate inequitable practices.

In this project, we are foregrounding the challenges of respecting Indigenous data sovereignty and establishing best practices at the core of our work, shifting the responsibility for ensuring adherence from Indigenous participants to all members of the team. This remains a work in progress, and one of the outcomes of our work will be more developed guidance and processes for our research partnerships. 

In this effort, we draw on the scholarship of Professor Neha Gupta (UBCO), a member of our steering committee. Dr. Gupta developed a presentation for our team to review the issues of data sovereignty. A copy of her slide deck can be found here.

She notes several key points of departure for our discussions:

  • Data sovereignty and data governance are not synonymous. The former is jurisdictional: the right of a nation to govern its own data. The latter is operational: the control and management of data. 
  • Materials analysis, including archaeology, collects data from sovereign things (commonly the belongings of Indigenous communities) and creates digital archives from existing digital records and novel observations, and digitizes analogue data. Each of these actions creates an opportunity for loss of sovereignty, especially through cloud storage and sharing.
  • As a result, best practices cover both ethical issues and organizational structures. We do not yet have a data sharing plan or a digital data platform, and an outcome of this work might include both.

Scholarship on these issues is well established, and includes resources such as:

Also check out the First Nations Public Service Secretariat's video series:

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