Minutes from July meeting

Indigenous data sovereignty discussion:

  • It was felt important that, as we read chapters from a book on Indigenous people, that we did an acknowledgement of country, as we were speaking from colonised lands, and so we paid respects to elders past, present, and future
  • This book was chosen as it is firstly important to pay attention to Indigenous groups and the matters which concern them. It was also chosen as these groups often producing some of the most interesting understandings and solutions on how to navigate digital resources/data. Appendix 1.1 shows the language Indigenous people use to navigate digital data; chapter 2 was chosen as it discusses the UNDRIP which explains the current situation; and chapter 5 was chosen to show why data on/around Indigenous people should be done differently and how.
  • Page 28 in chapter 2 helps to define Indigenous. In Australia and New Zealand, indigenous people are recognised as indigenous by the community who existed pre-colonisation. It is important that what constitutes as Indigenous is defined by Indigenous people, rather than on colonial terms and available for exploitation by people acting in bad faith (with the example here being Pauline Hanson).
  • What does this mean for data? The hope is that an Indigenous understanding is one of non-individual ownership of data. Is having an Indigenous form of data possible, however, if data is collected about you by someone else? Is it always decided by the person collecting the data, rather than the person whose data is collected? This raised the suggestion that indigenous data is more about the interpretative framework used to understand the data, recognising elements which are ignored by Western audiences. This was paralleled with colonialists not recognising the data held within Indigenous stories.
  • The responsibilities of handling data was raised too, moving from individual ownership of data to a guardianship or stewardship model of data ownership. In practice, this has been seen by some of the Iwi in New Zealand operating incorporated bodies which have stewardship over Indigenous resources like data. This allows these Iwi to use this data for commercialisation purposes. The question was raised of how this differs from the ‘creative commons’ approach to data which has been discussed in previous months?
  • Another issue was the question of why this issue was a specifically digital one? The 5D model, from chapter 5, is a good example of this. It shows a clear colonial power struggle and is self-evident oppression but is it better to address this directly as a colonial power struggle, rather than a data ownership issue? It was felt that the ‘digital data’ aspect of here was important because it raised the need for Indigenous perspectives on Indigenous needs. It allows for issues to be raised which are missed or ignored by the dominant culture, similarly to the Data Feminism concept. It also allows for ways of Indigenous cultures to raise questions about the dominant culture and what the dominant culture lacks.
  • This raised the question of if we were speaking only of an epistemic stance then, with big data acting with comprehensive stupidity. If big data collected everything but knows nothing, how the data is interpreted is the focal point of data. This is an epistemological concern, rather than ontological. How data is collected did come up too though, such as how data was aggregated or if certain data needs digitised at all. The copying process of the world into digital data potentially acts as a simulacra of Indigenous cultures here, becoming a device to justify the intervention by imperial cultures into Indigenous peoples.
  • ‘Closing the gap’ was raised as an interesting device here, specifically how it differs in regard to Indigenous peoples as opposed to youth cultures, peoples with disabilities, mental health concerns, etc. One suggestion was that the erasure of Indigenous cultures by colonialism. These Indigenous cultures existed long before imperialism so this culture being erased is potentially a different kind of ‘loss’ than the other examples here.
  • While this again raised the question of why this is a specifically ‘digital’ topic, it was suggested that this perhaps wasn’t the point here. The point is more about the epistemic understanding of data sets and their use. How this is done outside of nation states is important, for example, with the TPP having included clauses on the recognition of Indigenous knowledge with a specific status, similar to that of DOP in the EU. It was also felt that the book did not make a claim about an essential truth to data but that data appears as a fact which we then contextualise. An Indigenous epistemology may be able to come up with solutions to Indigenous issues in more positive or less aggressive ways than are currently suggested. A reorientation of how data is looked at would allow for Indigenous perspectives on their own communities.
  • It was brought up that the book only really deals with statistics derived from the state, rather than the commercial aspects of data. While official state knowledge is important, how commercialised bodies understand the same metrics may differ and would be interesting. How this could be done from an Indigenous perspective was raised. This included how elements which are lacking in the current data could be represented and how this data would be entered into a database. Would the neoliberal, individualised tropes still exist, such as the individual account, username, and password? It is difficult to know how this works in terms of Big Data too. How do we understand the small scale (how one family tells a story, for example) while still resisting the notion that you are still a small dot in a bigger map?
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