Universities throughout the world are harming Indigenous peoples due to their colonial approach to Indigenous data, according to Kevin Lujan Lee––an Indigenous Chamoru (familian Capili) scholar and activist. Lee is completing his PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and recently collaborated with other Indigenous academics at the 10th International Indigenous Research Conference hosted in Aotearoa last month.
The conference was attended by over 600 Indigenous researchers throughout the world. One outcome from the conference was a communiqué on Indigenous Data Sovereignty, calling for universities to fundamentally change the way that they collect, analyze, store, own and distribute Indigenous data. This includes:
- implementing Indigenous governance over Indigenous data and research involving Indigenous communities
- changing ethics processes to recognize and protect collective Indigenous data rights
- resourcing and support for Indigenous-controlled data repositories.
The communiqué has the support of Indigenous Data Sovereignty organisations in Aotearoa, the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia, and will be distributed throughout their international networks.
“By and large, universities actively allow the vast majority of Indigenous data to be collected without our free, prior, informed and ongoing consent; to be studied in ways that do not resonate with our elders and relatives; to be stored in data systems inaccessible to our people; and to be circulated among audiences who have no stakes in our struggles for Indigenous sovereignty,” says Lee.
He believes that universities too often work against the interests of Indigenous people, rather than for them.
“By and large, universities are not by and for Indigenous peoples. They have no imperative or incentives to be accountable to us, and they reward us only by making us objects in well-cited studies, and quaint references in well-attended classes. But Indigenous data sovereignty demands more,” says Lee.
Lee believes the first step towards resolution is for universities to acknowledge the scope and extent of harms inflicted on Indigenous peoples. “The future beckons. Universities must ensure that Indigenous peoples are giving our free, prior and informed consent at every stage of the data lifecycle.”
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