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Indigenous Knowledges Research

Handling Indigenous research data 

“We know that our traditional objects have agency or possess lifeforce and we have protocol and management around these things, but how do we treat and manage modern objects holding digital power?”

Shaun Angeles Penangke, Keynote: National Digital Forum,

Te Papa, Wellington, 2018.

One of the ways in which Indigenous peoples have been colonised is through the appropriation and misuse of Indigenous data and knowledges by colonial institutions and researchers. Many Indigenous peoples around the globe are taking control of their own data and knowledges through implementing Indigenous data sovereignty and governance initiatives. These initiatives ensure that the governance frameworks used to manage Indigenous knowledges and data are grounded in Indigenous cultural values and that Indigenous knowledges and data are used for the benefit of Indigenous peoples.

In Australia, the Indigenous Data Network and Maiam nayri Wingara are both working on Indigenous data governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ data. Key principles for Indigenous data governance in the Australian context were developed by Maiam nayri Wingara and the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute at the Indigenous Data Sovereignty Summit in 2018.

Internationally, the CARE principles for Indigenous data governance were developed by the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA). In Aotearoa/New Zealand there is the Te Mana Raraunga/Māori Data Sovereignty Network, which has developed these Principles of Māori Data Sovereignty:

  • Rangatiratanga/Authority
  • Whakapapa/Relationships
  • Whanaungatanga/Obligations
  • Kotahitanga/Collective benefit
  • Manaakitanga/Reciprocity
  • Kaitiakitanga/Guardianship

The OCAP® principles are data governance principles used by Canada’s First Nations. OCAP® is a registered trademark of the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) and stands for Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession. The United States (US) Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network works for Indigenous data sovereignty for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. 

Managing research data

For research data to be managed effectively, data files need to be titled, described, and documented. When it comes to Indigenous knowledges, the terminology used for data documentation should align with and reflect the Indigenous knowledge system it is documenting. The best way to ensure the terminology used is appropriate is to co-design your file-naming, data description, and data management protocols with Indigenous researchers, communities, and participants. This may involve making use of vocabularies that have been designed to meet the needs of Indigenous communities.

In Australia these include the AIATSIS Pathways Thesauri, which provide terminology on subjects, places, and languages. In Aotearoa/New Zealand there are the Ngā Upoko Tukutuku/Māori Subject Headings and the Iwi Hapū Names List. First Nations Peoples in Turtle Island/North America have developed their own subject classification systems, such as the X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s classification scheme, which is based on the Brian Deer classification scheme, and the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Indigenous Ontologies (FNMIIO).


When research data includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges there are specific needs around preservation, storage, and sharing that must be considered. Retention periods for research data must be co-designed with community collaborators. Similarly, co-researchers from Indigenous communities must be involved in identifying security needs associated with data and applying access controls, such as restricting access to people of specific genders. The community may want research data to be repatriated at the end of a project, so researchers based in universities should look at methods for providing community members with their own copies. Where local communities don’t have the facility to keep research data themselves, this may involve donating or depositing the data with an appropriate data archive that is accessible to them. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) take donations to their collection. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (ATSIDA) also accepts data deposits. If you work with language data, especially from Pacific cultures, then you can deposit your data with the Pacific And Regional Archive for DIgital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC). There are also some content and knowledge management systems that have been specifically designed for managing Indigenous knowledges, in case you need to develop your own digital archive to manage your research data. Mukurtu CMS and Keeping Culture KMS have both been developed specifically with Indigenous content and knowledge management in mind.