Indigenous data

in the Social Sciences


Indigenous Data

Indigenous data is any and all information or knowledge from or about Indigenous people, that relates to or impacts Indigenous lives, at the collective or the individual level. It includes:

  • Data about Indigenous people, including demographic, legal, health and service data.
  • Data and knowledge from Indigenous people.
  • Data about indigenous peoples’ environments and resources, including land history, geological information and place names.

Indigenous data is important to Indigenous people and communities, to non-Indigenous Australians, and to Australian governments, particularly in the context of the 17 national socio-economic Closing the Gap targets under the 2020 National Agreement.

Despite this, much Indigenous data is and has been collected, used and stored by non-Indigenous social science researchers and practitioners, whether through ethnographic research, population surveys, or through interaction with private or public services. Very little of this activity has been led or governed by Indigenous peoples, and there has rarely been any consideration of data and information rights beyond the point of collection.

Data sovereignty

There is a growing international movement toward Indigenous data sovereignty. It is grounded in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is defined as: The right of Indigenous Peoples to govern the collection, management, access, interpretation, dissemination and reuse of data related to them.

Indigenous data sovereignty is about giving Indigenous people control over the collection, management and use of data about them.


Fair and care

The FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data principles are increasingly being adopted worldwide, including in Australia, to support sharing and reuse of research data. However, they do not address the unique issues associated with Indigenous data.

As a complement to FAIR, in 2018, the Global Indigenous Data Alliance developed the CARE principles. These provide guidance to ensure:

  • Collective benefit to Indigenous peoples.
  • Authority to control, recognising data rights, interests and governance.
  • Responsibility to the providers for expanding Indigenous capability and fostering positive relationships.
  • Ethical data and processes, that minimise harm, maximise wellbeing and ensure justice.

Mayam Nayri Wingara

This means ‘to welcome good knowledge’ in the languages of the Mer, Palawi Kani and Darug peoples. It is also the name of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Sovereignty Collective formed in 2018, to progress Indigenous data sovereignty and governance in Australia. At their inaugural summit, the Collective established five rights-based principles to empower Indigenous Australians to engage in data sovereignty. Indigenous people have the right to:

  1. Exercise control of data ecosystems and data collection and use.
  2. Data that is contextual and disaggregated.
  3. Data that is relevant and empowers self-determination and self-governance.
  4. Data stewardship and structures that are accountable to Indigenous peoples.
  5. Data that is protective and respectful of individual and collective interests.

“I’ve spent most of my academic career building capacity within the institutions, as do other Indigenous academics. We see high levels of burnout, and it’s not acknowledged in our workloads, career progressions, or staff development. The same happens with knowledge holders in the community”

Senior Indigenous researcher at a regional university.