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Empowering Indigenous Communities Through Data Sovereignty


Photograph shows a group of American Indian dancers including men, women and children, some seated with a drum.

In the age of information, data tells the stories of our times, histories, and futures. The struggle for Indigenous data sovereignty—a movement where Indigenous communities seek control over their own information—is a testament to the power of data in shaping narratives and driving change. A compelling conversation hosted by Rosanna Deerchild on CBC Radio's "Unreserved" unveils the depth and breadth of this issue, through the voices of those at the heart of the movement.


Abigail Echo-Hawk turned body bags into this ribbon dress — a symbol of hope, resiliency and strength. She regularly combs through large data sets that weren’t collected with Indigenous people in mind or simply don’t count them at all. (Samuel Fu)

The Essence of Indigenous Data Sovereignty

At its core, Indigenous data sovereignty is about reclaiming the narrative. Survivors of the Mohawk Institute, Canada’s longest-running residential school, are among those leading the charge. They, along with others across North America, are gathering data to share their truths, correcting the narratives that have long been shaped without their consent.


Abigail Echo-Hawk, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, is a leading figure in this movement. Through her work with the Seattle Indian Health Board and the Urban Indian Health Institute, Echo-Hawk encounters the erasure of urban Indigenous people in large data sets daily. This “data crisis” not only obscures the realities faced by Indigenous communities but also absolves governments from fulfilling their treaty obligations. Echo-Hawk’s dedication to gathering Indigenous-specific data is a powerful step towards rectifying these wrongs.



Laura Arndt is the executive lead of the Survivors' Secretariat, which is working to make sure residential school data is held and preserved by Indigenous communities. (Survivors' Secretariat/Facebook)

Reclaiming and Correcting Histories

The importance of Indigenous data sovereignty extends beyond the present, reaching back to recover stories, memories, and information that have been stripped from Indigenous people. Laura Arndt, leading the Survivors' Secretariat in Six Nations, Ontario, emphasizes that the data isn't just numbers—it's the memory on paper of all those affected by Canada's residential schools. This movement is not just about controlling data; it's about healing and reclaiming the histories and identities that were almost lost.


The Impact of Sovereignty Over Data

This sovereignty allows Indigenous communities to present a fuller picture of their experiences and challenges. Samantha Tweet of Animikii, an Indigenous technology company, collaborates with the Survivors' Secretariat to create a database that preserves these memories securely and respectfully. Such projects underscore the necessity of Indigenous control over their information, ensuring it serves their needs and supports their healing process.


Moving Forward with Strength and Autonomy

The journey towards Indigenous data sovereignty is not merely about reclaiming control over information. It's a pathway towards understanding, healing, and autonomy. By dictating how their data is collected, analyzed, and shared, Indigenous communities can reshape their stories on their terms, illuminating the past and envisioning a future defined by their voices and values.

This article by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing for CBC Radio’s "Unreserved" offers a profound insight into why Indigenous data sovereignty is crucial. It's a call to acknowledge the power of data and the right of Indigenous communities to govern their narratives.


Engage Further and Support Indigenous Data Sovereignty

To grasp the full depth of these stories and the significance of the movement for Indigenous data sovereignty, I encourage you to read the entire article on CBC Radio’s website. This piece not only educates but also inspires action and support for Indigenous communities’ rights to their data. Furthermore, visit the author's page to explore more insightful stories and contributions. This journey towards understanding and respect is one we should all take part in.


Read the Full Article Here and Visit Laura Beaulne-Stuebing’s Author Page for more insights. Credit to CBC Radio for highlighting this important issue.


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