#DataBack | Recognize and Reclaim Indigenous Data Sovereignty

2023-01-13 Share story


“Data is the new oil.”

You may have heard this statement before. It summarizes the importance of data in technology, policy, and many aspects of life today. But we want to change this narrative, and stop looking at data purely as a commodity.

This narrative comes from a history of colonization and extraction. Data can be stolen in the same way as land, language, and culture, and this often means the same thing - data are land, language, and culture.

Data are essential for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples to inform policies, make better decisions, and ensure a better future for the next generations.

So what does this look like in practice?

Animikii is happy to announce the release of the #DataBack eBook, written for Indigenous-focused organizations and governments to transform data governance through advanced tools, principles, and practices. 

We wrote this eBook because we truly believe in the importance of #DataBack, and to share the challenges and opportunities we have encountered while developing Niiwin, a product to support Indigenous Data Sovereignty. 

Read on to learn more about #DataBack, and why it matters today, tomorrow, and generations into the future.

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Why #DataBack Matters to You

You should read this eBook if you work for an Indigenous government or Indigenous-focused organization and want to learn more about the importance of data sovereignty.

This resource is accessible to a reader with a limited understanding of data governance, Indigenous Data Sovereignty, and other related topics. However, readers looking for supplemental information can review the Further Reading section at the bottom of this article

What is Indigenous Data?

We understand data to be defined as “information that may be recorded in various forms,” which can include quantitative (countable and measurable) or qualitative (descriptive). 

There are many examples of complex data systems of record-keeping among Indigenous Peoples around the world. One of these is the wampum belt, a living memory of culture, laws, treaties, and history used by Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and other Indigenous groups.

Indigenous data refers to a group of people, not an individual, and can include regalia, songs, art, language, ceremonies, and much more.

These data practices form the basis of civilizations in both pre-contact and contemporary contexts. They are essential to cultural survival, and the well-being of community members. 

What is Indigenous Data Sovereignty?

Indigenous Data Sovereignty can be defined as the right of a nation to govern the collection, ownership, and application of its own data. 

As Ray Taken Alive says in a quote from his Twitter account: “No matter how it was collected, where it was collected, when it was collected, our language belongs to us. Our stories belong to us. Our songs belong to us.”

This can be difficult to contextualize, so consider this modern example of the importance of Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

Ray is a Lakota language student and advocate who was a vital part of banning the Lakota Language Consortium from his community after the organization spent years gathering recordings of Lakota elders to create a new standardized dictionary and learning materials – only to copyright the material and attempt to sell it back to the tribe.

What is #DataBack?

Much like the existing #LandBack and #CashBack movements, #DataBack is the rallying cry for taking back what rightfully belongs to Indigenous peoples.

On one hand, this movement represents a reaction to extractive practices from oppressive colonial systems that continue to commodify all aspects of life, especially in the digital space.

On the other hand, it inspires the rejuvenation of cultures through customs, language, traditions, values and worldviews. 

Nothing About Us Without Us

“Nothing about us without us.” 

Few statements sum up the importance of the work we do in such a simple way.

Global Indigenous rights are described by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Article 31, which describes our right to maintain, control, protect, and develop the manifestations of Indigenous sciences and technologies

Indigenous data and tech follow Indigenous values and worldviews that have existed since time immemorial. And we want to ensure that these values and worldviews survive for generations to come.

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Further Reading

Read Decolonizing Digital: Contextualizing Indigenous Data Sovereignty, the first of our six-part Decolonizing Digital Series.

Read our article on Data Privacy, which discusses the importance of understanding how your personal data is collected online, and what you can do about it.

Learn more about #DataBack, its authors, Niiwin and download your copy of the eBook on the #DataBack website.