Protecting Indigenous Data

14 October 2016

Department of Statistics senior research fellow Andrew Sporle was among Māori academics who represented New Zealand at the first international meeting to focus on indigenous control of data about native peoples.

Mr Sporle joined three other Māori researchers at the Indigenous Open Data Summit on October 5 in Madrid, Spain. The summit provided a forum to discuss what action was being taken to protect the use of data about indigenous peoples. It preceded the 4th Annual International Open Data Conference (IODC) in the city on October 6 and 7.

Mr Sporle (Rangitāne, Ngāti Apa, Te Rārawa) says that indigenous data sovereignty is the right of a native people to govern the collection, ownership and application of its own data, and derives from tribes’ inherent right to govern their people, lands and resources.

In a world of open data, he adds, indigenous peoples are becoming increasingly concerned about who owns and represents statistics about indigenous people, who has access to the data, its cultural integrity, and how people’s privacy and autonomy is protected.

He attended the conference with Tahu Kukutai (Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Aupōuri) from the University of Waikato; independent statisticians Kirikowhai Mikaere (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakaue) and James Hudson (Ngāti Pukeko, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tai, Tūhoe), a researcher for Auckland Council’s Independent Māori Statutory Board.

Mr Sporle says that Māori data can be seen as data from Māori, such as that from Māori organisations and businesses; data about Māori; and data about Māori resources. All these types of data may have cultural or commercial relevance. However, indigenous people have historically had a problematic relationship with researchers, academics and other data collectors. “From a Māori perspective, we were all too often the researched, not the researchers, and Māori realities were often portrayed as a strange and inferior 'other',” says Mr Sporle. “Indigenous peoples are asserting the right to govern and protect the data that are so important to our development. We cannot afford to lose control of data about us.”

Data is a “highly valuable strategic asset” for Māori development. “In the age of big data, Māori want access to data to support our decision‐making and to be involved when big data is used to make decisions about us.”

Mr Sporle is a founding member of Te Mana Raraunga (the Māori Data Sovereignty Network), which was set up last year to assert Māori rights and interests in relation to data. The group’s guiding motto is “He whenua hou, Te Ao Raraunga; Te Ao Raraunga, He whenua hou", or “Data is a new world, a world of opportunity.”  It advocates “for the development of capacity and capability across the Māori data ecosystem, including data rights and interests, data governance, data storage and security, and data access and control”.

The Indigenous Open Data Summit was run by the Native Nations Institute, located on Tohono O'odham Nation traditional homelands at the University of Arizona, and the University of Arizona. The institute is home to the US Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network, which helps ensure that data for and about Indigenous nations and peoples in the USA – American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians – are used to advance indigenous aspirations.