Data that pertains to Indigenous peoples is a complex legal and ethical terrain. Whether it is cultural, linguistic, medical or otherwise, such data usually needs to be managed and shared with care and considerations of self-determination and the right of people to have a say about managing their cultural heritage in ways that are meaningful to them.

In Australia the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are not homogeneous. Each has its own rich cultural and linguistic diversity, so experience with one community’s values, perspectives, culture and knowledge may not translate to another community.

The ARDC has provided funding to The Indigenous Data Network (IDN) to help Indigenous communities in developing the technical capability and resources to enable them to manage their data for community advancement. By strengthening communities’ agency in their data, the network empowers them to make informed decisions about their own development.

Protocols and research guidelines

Data pertaining to Indigenous peoples may need to have access mediated under specific conditions relating to the data, but this should not be a barrier to its proper handling and care. Researchers and data managers or data custodians working with these sorts of data need to respect potentially different understandings of the world and to manage information and knowledge in step with these differences (e.g. the conditions and context of secrecy).   There are many resources available to assist, much of it specific to the Australian context.

From individual communities

The following are examples of guidance from individual communities. This is not an exhaustive list and specific advice may exist from the community relevant to your research.

Ninti One resources:


Yala/Yoljnu resources:

Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels

TK Labels are an internationally developed metadata label for Indigenous communities to add existing local protocols for access to and reuse of recorded cultural heritage that is digitally circulating outside community contexts and control. The TK Labels help non-community users of this cultural heritage understand its importance and significance to the communities from where it derives and continues to have meaning.

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

Tools and platforms

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

  • Keeping culture: A knowledge management system for Indigenous archives – a web application for preserving, organising and repatriating digital or digitised media and cultural knowledge into communities. It was first developed to support the Ara Irititja archive project of the Anangu (Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people) of Central Australia.
  • Mukurtu: A free, mobile and open source CMS built with indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage.

Further resources

Related topics

Sensitive data

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Ethics and data sharing

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