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Indigenous data sovereignty – why does it matter?

April 29, 2022

Amanda is the Director of Strategy and Performance at New Zealand Māori Tourism and this includes being business owner of a small data programme.

Previously, Amanda drew together the Budget bid package for Māori Development, guided the strategy development for the successful Māori outcomes programme of a large Crown entity and worked in many sectors here and internationally.

Indigenous data sovereignty – why does it matter?

Ethics. Let me say upfront, I am not a data expert, but can say from experience that effective policy and strategy are based on evidence, which in turn; is based on good data. As the public and community sectors are heavily involved in allocating resources, setting long-term social development goals, including in the justice system and many other things that affect everyone of us; I became interested in ways we can improve data and data management. Ethics are at the core of public and community sector decision-making. Like others, I am at the beginning of my journey to understand indigenous data sovereignty and how it can help us improve our wellbeing and what it may mean in terms of data management changes we make in the future.

Firstly, what’s the problem?

My main observation so far:

Data ownership, from a Western or pākeha perspective, is generally in accordance with whoever collects or holds the data. In contrast, the ownership rights of the people from whom the data is collected or held, are not defined, except in limited ways in privacy or perhaps official information laws, where applicable. In practical terms, indigenous people often cannot access data held about them and are not involved in information design using the data.

Secondly, what is indigenous data sovereignty?

This is a global shift towards indigenous peoples having more control over data, including access and management, so they can improve or influence improvement in wellbeing or produce benefits for their people and countries. Another aim of indigenous data sovereignty is to reduce or avoid harm caused by data and data management which exclude the voice of indigenous people.

OK, so why does it matter in New Zealand?

Despite inequitable outcomes for Māori in some areas, including where Māori outperform the average, it is hard to see the picture behind those results and the causes of the inequity. With the benefit of hindsight in the 21st Century, we now see that Māori data cannot easily be disaggregated from national statistics so, often, we cannot see the full picture for Māori.

Today, as we strive to understand more about Aotearoa’s challenges and solutions, most of us are aware that we have a bicultural basis to our society – of Māori and pākeha – but do we understand both cultures? What biases do we need to overcome to make the best of this bicultural base for future generations?

We have Māori data sovereignty principles in New Zealand.

AI is being used to inform decision-making but have Māori data sovereignty principles been applied?

OK, where can I find out more?

AI Ethics course: Indigenous Data Sovereignty by Assoc Prof Maui Hudson

Māori data sovereignty

If you have questions or if you want to contact Amanda Lee, please send us a request and we will help you.