Indigenous Data

Data involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has many legal and ethical considerations and needs to be managed and shared with care. 

What is Indigenous Data?

The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) states that “Indigenous data, in general, comprise data, knowledge, and information that relate to Indigenous Peoples at both the individual and collective level, including data about lands and environment, people, and cultures.¹

In the Australian context, the scope of Indigenous Data has been evolving and developing alongside global efforts, but with  a local focus.

Maiam nayri Wingara is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Sovereignty Collective. In 2018 it defined Indigenous Data as:

“In Australia, ‘Indigenous Data’ refers to information or knowledge, in any format or medium, which is about and may affect Indigenous peoples both collectively and individually.²

In a 2024 discussion paper from the Lowitja Institute, the British Columbia First Nations Data Governance Initiative’s 2016 definition is cited:

“Indigenous data refers to information or knowledge in any format, inclusive of statistics, that is about Indigenous people and that impacts Indigenous lives at the collective and/or individual level.”³

The Indigenous Data Network (IDN) at the University of Melbourne’s 2024 definition is:
“Data generated, intentionally or not, by, about, or for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous data refers to information, in any format or medium, collected, analysed, stored, and interpreted within the context of Indigenous individuals, collectives, populations, entities, lifeways, cultures, knowledge systems, lands, biodiversity, water and other resources.   

It includes data collected, used, or stored by any agency, department, laboratory, organisation, corporation, statutory body, university or research institute, conducted by, with, and about Indigenous people or peoples, and data that Indigenous communities have generated and maintained themselves.”⁴

¹RDA COVID-19 Indigenous Data WG. (2020)“Data sharing respecting Indigenous data sovereignty.” In RDA COVID-19 Working Group. Recommendations and guidelines on data sharing. Research Data Alliance. https://doi.org/10.15497/rda00052

²Maiam nayri Wingara. (2018) Indigenous Data Sovereignty Communique Indigenous Data Sovereignty Summit 20th June 2018, Canberra, ACT. Available here.

³Lowitja Institute. (2024) Taking Control of Our Data: A Discussion Paper on Indigenous Data Governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Communities, Discussion Paper, Melbourne. DOI: https://doi.org/10.48455/rtvd-7782 

Indigenous Data Network. (2024, April 4) IDN Roundtable: Developing & Adopting Indigenous Data Governance Frameworks [Defining Indigenous Data]. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Indigenous Data and the ARDC

The ARDC is working with the Indigenous Data Network (IDN) through the Improving Indigenous Research Capabilities project so Indigenous communities can grow their technical capability and resources to manage their own data. The IDN leverages developments in the data sciences to maximise the optimal collection, access and use of data resources for community empowerment. This work is part of the ARDC’s HASS and Indigenous Research Data Commons. Indigenous Data Governance (ID-Gov) is considered across all HASS and Indigenous Research Data Commons focus areas including: 

The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance underpin the ARDC and partners work on Indigenous data. Learn more about the CARE Principles.

Protocols and Research Guidelines

Data about First Nations peoples sometimes involves a mediated access level, requiring potential users to meet specific conditions. Researchers, data managers and data custodians will need to uphold key competencies in which to respect Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing that differ from Western data practices in order to manage information and knowledge in step with specific cultural requirements. 

Read on to explore resources to help you manage Indigenous data ethically.

General Advice for the Australian Context

Guidance from Individual Communities

Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Biocultural (BC) Notices and Labels

TK and BC Notices and Labels were created by Local Contexts, a global initiative that supports Indigenous communities with tools that can reassert cultural authority in heritage collections and data.

TK Notices are tools for institutions and researchers to identify Indigenous collections and data and recognise Indigenous rights and interests. TK Notices were developed to create pathways for partnership, collaboration, and support of Indigenous cultural authority.

TK Notices can be applied to websites, publications, datasets, museum exhibitions, items in a collection, genetic samples, and more. Some Notices can be added by non-Indigenous data custodians

There are 3 categories of TK Notices:

  1. Engagement Notice: used to indicate a researcher or institutions is committed to equitable engagement and ethical partnerships with Indigenous communities
  2. Disclosure Notices: used to identify Indigenous collections and data and to recognise there could be accompanying cultural rights, protocols, and responsibilities. Disclosure Notices can function as place-holders on collections, data, or in a sample field until a TK or a BC Label is added by a community.
  3. Collections Care Notices: used to recognise the cultural protocols that govern the care, display, and access to cultural materials.

TK Labels is an international metadata label system that can be customised by Indigenous communities and organisations. 

The labels add existing local protocols for access to and reuse of recorded cultural heritage that is digitally circulating outside community contexts and control. They help non-community data users understand these materials’ importance and significance to the communities. 

TK Labels can be used to add information that might be considered ‘missing’, including the name of the community that remains the creator or cultural custodian of the material, and how to contact the relevant family, clan or community to arrange appropriate permissions.

Biocultural (BC) Labels extend the TK Label initiative to genetic resources and within the biological and genomic data sciences. The BC Labels define community expectations about appropriate use of biocultural collections and data. 

The labels use icons that are consistent internationally and cannot be changed. But the text can be translated into different languages. 

Indigenous Data Tools and Platforms

There are a growing number of tools and platforms available for Indigenous communities, and those who work with their data, to help store, maintain and organise the data in culturally sensitive ways.

Further Resources

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Last updated

14 May 2022

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Page

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7 minutes