June 5, 2015 IODC

A guest post from Ahmed T Rashid & Ruhiya Kristine Seward.

What does open data mean for 370 million indigenous people in 70 countries across the globe? The history of the collection of data on indigenous people has been a problematic one in part because of the census-taking methods which have failed to capture important differences in indigenous communities. This coupled with underlying sometimes spurious motivations for collecting information in the first place have had the effect of alienating indigenous people from census processes and from official data collection activities. For instance, indigenous people often live in multiple settlements and in undefined jurisdictions which do not fit into census sampling and has led to inaccuracies in vital statistics. This has regularly happened in the U.S.A., where statistics used to estimate life expectancy or any other health indicator are often inaccurate or non-existent for indigenous communities across the country. According to presenters on the indigenous data and open government panel, this ‘lack of data’ is puzzling given that indigenous people are often skilled gatherers and analyzers of data, for example on the natural surroundings in which they live.

Panelists provided concrete examples of how indigenous data collection – and sovereignty over that data – is changing. One example is the Cheyenne River VOICES Research project in the Lakota nation reserve in South Dakota, USA. The project collected qualitative and quantitative data from nearly a 1,000 households on finances, economic challenges and community concerns (see a YouTube video on the project here). In contrast with extractive data gathering, the survey results from the VOICES project are being taken back to the community in order to support new strategies for economic development – vital for a community with some of the highest poverty levels in the country. The project highlighted some of the major differences in data collected by governments and data collected by tribal communities – with the latter drawing in much greater household response and offering much more contextualized, relevant information.

An emerging theme during the discussion is the political nature of open data and data more generally. For the collection, use and storage of data on indigenous people, the need for ‘data sovereignty’ to protect culture and values is deeply significant. For indigenous communities, it is critical to ensure that any data collected is preserved and protected in ways that respect the rich diversity of indigenous cultures and languages. Understanding these concerns could become the basis for more equitable partnerships between governments and indigenous peoples.

Some of the tweets from the session give further insight into the discussions

 

 


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