🔬 Research Summary by Jennafer Shae Roberts, a social science researcher with Accel AI Institute specializing in AI and ethics from a decolonial perspective.
[Original paper by Jennafer Shae Roberts and Laura Montoya]
Overview: This research highlights the troubling parallels between data mining practices and colonialism, shedding light on the need to include Indigenous perspectives in data-driven domains like artificial intelligence (AI). It underscores the urgency of embracing Indigenous Data Sovereignty, emphasizing the pivotal role that Indigenous communities could play in asserting their rights and control over their data, charting a path towards more equitable and inclusive technological advancements. The core issue we’re exploring is the lack of inclusion of Indigenous voices in the development of data-dependent technologies, like AI, which perpetuates new forms of colonialism.
“Indigenous Peoples have always been ‘data warriors’. Our ancient traditions recorded and protected information and knowledge through art, carving, song, chants and other practices.”(Kukutai, 2020)
This quote highlights a different perspective on data, which is generally considered a ‘free’ resource. This research explores the reframing of rights related to data and aims to illustrate how data mining is akin to a neo-colonial practice.
Our solution was to apply the CARE principles for Indigenous Data Governance, which were developed by The International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group (within the Research Data Alliance). The CARE principles include:
- Collective Benefit
- Authority to Control
Our literature review found that much of the research on a decolonial approach to data and AI failed to mention the CARE Principles or Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Additionally, the literature on the CARE Principles was missing a strong critique of data mining as a colonial practice.
Our research uniquely bridges a gap by establishing a vital connection between the CARE Principles and colonial data mining. This contribution highlights the principles’ significance in securing equitable data rights, safeguarding Indigenous peoples’ rights, preventing the perpetuation of colonial practices, and amplifying marginalized voices.
Introduction to Indigenous Data Sovereignty
Indigenous Data Sovereignty (ID-SOV) is a concept that emerged in 2016. It encompasses the right of Indigenous Peoples to own, control, access, and possess data related to their members, knowledge systems, customs, or territories. This includes cultural knowledge, heritage, and personal information. (Kukutai, 2020)
Understanding what it means to be Indigenous in the Digital Age
While working to decolonize, we must stress that the term ‘Indigenous’ was a separation created by colonists used to determine who was human and who was less than human. (Scott, 2009) (Roberts & Montory, 2023) The fact that we still function from this foundation is inherently detrimental. A common element of Indigenous Peoples is a strong desire to maintain autonomy while also resisting marginalization and discrimination. (Chung & Chung, 2019) That is why the CARE principles are so important to listen to and follow Indigenous rights around data.
The CARE Principles of Indigenous Data Governance
Our research is about how the CARE Principles of Indigenous Data Governance can be used to address unethical data mining issues. The CARE Principles are centered around people and purpose, emphasizing the role of data in driving innovation, governance, and self-determination among Indigenous Peoples. (Carroll et al. 2020)
While the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) primarily focus on data itself and overlook the ethical and socially responsible aspects of data usage, such as power imbalances and historical contexts related to data acquisition and utilization (Wilkinson et al., 2016) the CARE principles prioritize the welfare of Indigenous Peoples and their data. They can be integrated alongside the FAIR Principles across the entire data lifecycle to ensure mutual advantages and address these broader ethical considerations. (RDA, 2020 P57)
- Collective Benefit: Data ecosystems should enable Indigenous Peoples to benefit from their data
- Authority to Control: Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights in data and empower their authority to control it
- Responsibility: Those handling Indigenous data must share how it supports Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination and collective benefit.
- Ethics: Indigenous Peoples’ rights and well-being should be the primary concern throughout the data life cycle and across the data ecosystem. (Carroll et al. 2020)
Integrating CARE principles and Indigenous Data Sovereignty into global data governance can shift us away from harmful colonial data mining, promoting a more balanced relationship with data and advancing the goal of decolonizing data.
Case Study Example
In the paper, we review several case studies globally to exemplify how the CARE principles could be beneficial in particular situations of data collection. One was the story of a European NGO that undertook a mission in Burundi to gather data on water accessibility (Abebe et al., 2021) However, in their efforts, the NGO encountered significant challenges. First, they failed to fully grasp the community’s perspective on the core issues, missing crucial insights. Secondly, they did not anticipate the potential harm their actions could inflict.
By making the collected data publicly available, including specific geographic locations, the NGO unwittingly exposed the local community to risks. This breach of privacy, especially collective privacy, resulted in a substantial loss of trust.
In this case, the violation of the CARE principles, specifically in terms of Collective Benefit and Responsibility, underscores the importance of recognizing Indigenous data rights and considering the broader impact of data-sharing practices.
Is Data Sharing Beneficial?
Balancing transparency and personal security is a challenge for Indigenous communities, as data sharing can have both positive and negative impacts. Responsible utilization includes addressing issues of marginalization, colonialism, discrimination, and power imbalances in government-led negotiations. For it to be beneficial, data producers must gain value from exchanging and using their data.
Indigenous Data Sovereignty is a critical concept in the quest to decolonize data. It recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples to control and own their data and challenges historical frameworks. As data becomes increasingly vital in the digital age, we must respect the autonomy and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that data is collected and used responsibly, focusing on ethical and social aspects through the CARE Principles. This approach respects Indigenous rights and contributes to more meaningful, equitable, and responsible data utilization.
Between the lines
The bottom line is that we must shift how we see data as a resource and understand that open data does not benefit everyone. Rather, it perpetuates systems of corporate power. By looking at data mining as a colonial practice, we found that the solution was to look towards the rights of self-determination put forth by Indigenous groups. We wanted to stress the CARE principles as a way to address data mining issues and ensure that collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics can guide data practices for better relationships with data and the people behind the data. This research centers on Indigenous peoples in the context of colonization and neo-colonization, recognizing their pivotal role in resisting exploitative and marginalizing practices. While the focus is on Indigenous communities, the overarching goal is to benefit everyone impacted by the collection and use of data, with the aspiration to bring about positive change in the current paradigm of data utilization.
Abebe, Rediet, Kehinde Aruleba, Abeba Birhane, Sara Kingsley, George Obaido, Sekou L. Remy, and Swathi Sadagopan. “Narratives and Counternarratives on Data Sharing in Africa.” In Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, 329–41. Virtual Event Canada: ACM, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1145/3442188.3445897.
Carroll, Stephanie Russo, Ibrahim Garba, Oscar L. Figueroa-Rodríguez, Jarita Holbrook, Raymond Lovett, Simeon Materechera, Mark Parsons, et al. “The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.” Data Science Journal 19 (November 2020). https://doi.org/10.5334/dsj-2020-043.
Chung, Pyrou, and Mia Chung. “INDIGENOUS DATA SOVEREIGNTY IN THE MEKONG REGION.” 2019 WORLD BANK CONFERENCE ON LAND AND POVERTY”, March 2019. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d3799de845604000199cd24/t/5d73f381116f8f338459d0f0/1567880 065875/IDSov+in+the+Mekong+Region.pdf.
Kukutai, Tahu, and John Taylor. Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Edited by Tahu Kukutai and John Taylor. ANU Press, 2016. https://doi.org/10.22459/CAEPR38.11.2016.
RDA COVID-19 Indigenous Data WG. “Data sharing respecting Indigenous data sovereignty.” In RDA COVID-19 Working Group (2020). Recommendations and guidelines on data sharing. Research Data Alliance. https://doi.org/10.15497/rda00052.
Scott, James C. (2009) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 464 pp. Revista Andaluza De Antropología, 1, 126–129. https://doi.org/10.12795/raa.2011.i01.10
Wilkinson, M., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I. et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data 3, 160018 (2016).