Indigenous data sovereignty

If your research involves Indigenous Peoples, it is important to plan your data management to adhere to principles of Indigenous data sovereignty.  

What is Indigenous data sovereignty?

Indigenous data sovereignty means that Indigenous Peoples have the right to own, control, access, and steward data about their communities, lands, and culture. Information management and data collection strategies must align with the practices and culture of the Indigenous Nation, community or Peoples who are represented in the data. Data sovereignty also means that Indigenous communities, Nations, and individuals are partners in the research process rather than subjects.

What is Indigenous data?

Indigenous data can include:

  • Data about Indigenous resources and environments. Land management and land history, geological data, or information about wildlife or water sources would all be in this category.
  • Data about Indigenous Peoples, communities, or Nations. This includes social data like demographics, health information, employment data, or education statistics.
  • Data from Indigenous communities. This encompasses data which relates to ancestral knowledge and cultural practices, including language, song, stories, oral histories, or images.

OCAP® principles 

    The OCAP® principles are a set of standards to guide Indigenous data governance.

    OCAP® stands for ownership, control, access, and possession:    

    • Ownership: Indigenous communities own their information in the same way that an individual would own their personal information.  
    • Control: Indigenous communities and Nations can seek control over research data and its management at all stages of the research cycle.
    • Access: Indigenous communities and Nations must be able to access data about themselves and have the right to make or be involved in decisions regarding access to the data.
    • Possession: Physical control of the data should be with the First Nation or Indigenous-controlled steward, or otherwise with a third party data steward (decided upon by the Indigenous community or Nation) who will ensure the principles of ownership, control, and access are upheld. 

    CARE principles

    The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance guide the use of Indigenous data and reflect the importance of data to Indigenous self-determination:

    • Collective Benefit: Indigenous Peoples should benefit from the data and the research aligns with the needs and goals of the community.
    • Authority to Control: Indigenous Peoples have agency to make decisions regarding data governance and how they are represented in the data. Indigenous data must be accessible to Indigenous communities.
    • Responsibility: Researchers are accountable to Indigenous communities and must be able to demonstrate how their use of Indigenous data benefits the Indigenous Peoples and their self-determination. Evidence of benefits must be shared and resources must be grounded in Indigenous language and worldviews.
    • Ethics: Indigenous rights and wellbeing are central during all stages of the data lifecycle. Risk assessments must be considered from an Indigenous perspective. 

    Additional resources

    Canada's Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy emphasizes the importance of Indigenous data sovereignty and affirms that research data management and Indigenous data collection must be approved or developed by the Indigenous community in alignment with the CARE principles.

    The First Nations Information Governance Centre provides the OCAP® training course along with other resources about Indigenous data sovereignty.

    SFU Library's Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre's Respectful Research page provides more information and resources about Indigenous intellectual property, Indigenous data, and Indigenous research methods.