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Indigenous Data Sovereignty

CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance

The Climate Science Alliance works to ensure that data for and about our Indigenous partners are utilized to advance their community priorities and safeguard their lands and cultures from the threat of climate change.

In the Policy Brief: Indigenous Data Sovereignty in the United States, Rainie (2017) describes Indigenous Data as follows: 

Indigenous peoples have always been data creators, data users, and data stewards. They have used this information to interact with each other and with the natural world since time immemorial. Data were and are embedded in Indigenous instructional practices and cultural principles, and transmitted orally as well as recorded through winter counts, calendar sticks, totem poles, and other physical objects. Today, Indigenous data are information that impact Indigenous lives at the collective and individual levels. Indigenous data include, “any facts, knowledge, or information about a Native nation and its tribal citizens, lands, resources, programs, and communities. Information ranging from demographic profiles to educational attainment rates, maps of sacred lands, songs, and social media activities are all data."

To our Indigenous partners, Indigenous data sovereignty means they have the right to govern the collection, ownership, and application of their own data. The Climate Science Alliance honors the guidance and leadership of the Tribal Working Group and will only engage in partnerships that honor and respect the data sovereignty of our Indigenous partners.


Here at the Climate Science Alliance, we adopt the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance as defined by the Research Data Alliance International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group (September 2019):

Collective Benefit

Data ecosystems shall be designed and function in ways that enable Indigenous Peoples to derive benefit from the data.

  • For inclusive development and innovation

    • Governments and institutions must actively support the use and reuse of data by Indigenous nations and communities by facilitating the establishment of the foundations for Indigenous innovation, value generation, and the promotion of local self-determined development processes.​

  • For improved governance and citizen engagement

    • Data enrich the planning, implementation, and evaluation processes that support the service and policy needs of Indigenous communities. Data also enable better engagement between citizens, institutions, and governments to improve decision-making. Ethical use of open data has the capacity to improve transparency and decision-making by providing Indigenous nations and communities with a better understanding of their peoples, territories, and resources. It similarly can provide greater insight into third-party policies and programs affecting Indigenous Peoples.​

  • For equitable outcomes

    • Indigenous data are grounded in community values, which extend to society at large. Any value created from Indigenous data should benefit Indigenous communities in an equitable manner and contribute to Indigenous aspirations for wellbeing.​

Authority to Control

Indigenous Peoples’ rights and interests in Indigenous data must be recognized and their authority to control such data be empowered. Indigenous data governance enables Indigenous Peoples and governing bodies to determine how Indigenous Peoples, as well as Indigenous lands, territories, resources, knowledges and geographical indicators, are represented and identified within data.

  • Recognizing rights and interests

    • Indigenous Peoples have rights and interests in both Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous data. Indigenous Peoples have collective and individual rights to free, prior, and informed consent in the collection and use of such data, including the development of data policies and protocols for collection.

  • Data for governance

    • Indigenous Peoples have the right to data that are relevant to their world views and empower self-determination and effective self-governance. Indigenous data must be made available and accessible to Indigenous nations and communities in order to support Indigenous governance.

  • Governance of data

    • Indigenous Peoples have the right to develop cultural governance protocols for Indigenous data and be active leaders in the stewardship of, and access to, Indigenous data especially in the context of Indigenous Knowledge.


Those working with Indigenous data have a responsibility to share how those data are used to support Indigenous Peoples’ self determination and collective benefit. Accountability requires meaningful and openly available evidence of these efforts and the benefits.

  • For positive relationships

    • Indigenous data use is unviable unless linked to relationships built on respect, reciprocity, trust, and mutual understanding, as defined by the Indigenous Peoples to whom those data relate. Those working with Indigenous data are responsible for ensuring that the creation, interpretation, and use of those data uphold, or are respectful of, the dignity of Indigenous nations and communities.

  • For expanding capability and capacity

    • Use of Indigenous data invokes a reciprocal responsibility to enhance data literacy within Indigenous communities and to support the development of an Indigenous data workforce and digital infrastructure to enable the creation, collection, management, security, governance, and application of data.

  • For Indigenous languages and worldviews

    • Resources must be provided to generate data grounded in the languages, worldviews, and lived experiences (including values and principles) of Indigenous Peoples.


Indigenous Peoples’ rights and wellbeing should be the primary concern at all stages of the data life cycle and across the data ecosystem.

  • For minimizing harm and maximizing benefit

    • Ethical data are data that do not stigmatize or portray Indigenous Peoples, cultures, or knowledges in terms of deficit. Ethical data are collected and used in ways that align with Indigenous ethical frameworks and with rights affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Assessing ethical benefits and harms should be done from the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples, nations, or communities to whom the data relate.

  • For justice

    • Ethical processes address imbalances in power, resources, and how these affect the expression of Indigenous rights and human rights. Ethical processes must include representation from relevant Indigenous communities.

  • For future use

    • Data governance should take into account the potential future use and future harm based on ethical frameworks grounded in the values and principles of the relevant Indigenous community. Metadata should acknowledge the provenance and purpose and any limitations or obligations in secondary use inclusive of issues of consent.


Rainie, S.C., Rodriguez-Lonebear, D., & Martinez, A. (2017). Indigenous Data Sovereignty in the United States (Policy Brief). Tucson: Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona

Research Data Alliance International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group. (September 2019). CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. The Global Indigenous Data Alliance.

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