Indigenous data sovereignty and its application in AASTEC

Xiaoyun Zhang (Sharon) SID: 500391305

With the advent of the cloud era, people are more dependent on the convenience brought by the Internet, and the way of accessing and storing information has changed from the past. People save their personal related information on the Internet and obtain the information they want from the Internet. The information that people obtain and store on the Internet is all kinds of data. The question of who manages the data and who has the sovereignty is a matter of concern. For the study of cloud data, it is important to focus on the data of indigenous people in addition to the data of non-indigenous people. According to the World Bank (2021), there are approximately 370 to 500 million indigenous people in the world, spread across 90 countries, who live across the globe and represent 5,000 different cultures. While retaliating and focusing on non-indigenous data, focusing on and studying the sovereignty of indigenous data is an inevitable issue in studying cloud data.

“Indigenous data sovereignty is the right of Indigenous peoples and tribes to govern the collection, ownership, and application of their data” (Rainie et. al., 2017, p.301). This means that indigenous peoples have their management of these data The right is not restricted by any other organization, it is an independent mechanism. The data covered is also very extensive, including “data, information and knowledge of individuals, collectives, entities, lifestyles, culture, land and resources” (Rainie et. al., 2017, p.301). Therefore, the development of indigenous data sovereignty is also more conducive to the development of indigenous groups themselves, but they also face many problems while making changes.

Indigenous data collection

Indigenous data sovereignty challenges primitive governance methods and helps better realize the rights, values ​​and development of indigenous democracy (United Nations, 2018 as cited in Carroll et al., 2019). Carroll et al. (2019) believe that if you want to promote indigenous data sovereignty, you must recognize that indigenous peoples have their governance rights to govern and make changes that are conducive to indigenous people’s data management under the original governance method. However, there are obstacles in actual operation, and few data collectors or institutions make concessions (Raine et al., 2019). Such obstacles make the collection of indigenous data more difficult. Except for the non-cooperation of related agencies and personnel. Raine et al. (2019) emphasized that in the collection of data, there are still insufficient human resources. They said that relevant statistics show that the current society’s investment in indigenous tribes is currently limited. These phenomena make it difficult to collect indigenous data available to data agencies. The lack of data on indigenous peoples is imperfect, which restricts the research of other indigenous peoples research institutions. In Africa, local indigenous data are not visible in the national statistical system (Raine et al., 2019). Kowal et al. (2017) point out that although some scholars believe that this can avoid the harm caused by data sharing to a certain extent, it also makes it difficult for them to obtain some potential benefits. For example, under the constraints of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, even if Sweden has a high level of medical care, it is impossible to conduct more research and understanding of the local indigenous population (Raine et al., 2019). A situation similar to Sweden makes it impossible for many authoritative data research institutions to conduct research on indigenous peoples, which endangers the health and well-being of indigenous communities and even their future development.

Data access and data use and interpretation

Walter and Suina (2019) argue that the existing data governance legal and policy framework is based on the same power structure that provides information for national and international decision-making. The access and use of indigenous peoples on the Internet do not match the situation of indigenous peoples in the country. Imperfect policies have challenged the access and control of indigenous peoples. At the same time, the problems caused by incomplete data collection and the difficulties of indigenous peoples in obtaining information make the data stored on the Internet appear inaccurate and unreliable. On the one hand, this phenomenon may limit the development of indigenous communities. On the other hand, due to inaccurate information, this may cause misunderstandings between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, thereby worsening the relationship between the two groups.

Carroll et al. (2019) pointed out that indigenous people cannot control the data of big companies such as Amazon and Facebook. In Australia, Aboriginal people have more opportunities to use social media than ordinary people (Callinan, 2014 as cited in Carlson, 2021). However, in these forums, indigenous peoples are often attacked and abused because of their identities (Carlson, 2021). This occurs because non-indigenous people misunderstand indigenous peoples in terms of imperfect data and have a fixed way of thinking that is biased and resistant to indigenous groups. Tsosie (2019) explained that if you search for keywords related to indigenous peoples on Google, the search content will be related to diseases, crimes and other negative information that is not conducive to the image of indigenous peoples. This means that the current mainstream media’s focus on indigenous peoples is more focused on the gap between indigenous people and non-indigenous people, the disadvantages of indigenous peoples and the negative issues of poverty. Therefore, if indigenous peoples can more easily obtain data and have the right to interpret the data, they can control certain data whose prejudices are inconsistent with the facts, which will change the public’s stereotypes of indigenous peoples to a certain extent.

Furthermore, within indigenous communities, due to lack of funds, indigenous situations also face difficulties in obtaining data. This includes the purchase of hardware devices and the money they pay when downloading resources (Rainie et al., 2017). Carroll et al. (2019) also have the same opinion. They state that indigenous peoples have limited data management due to a lack of data processing capabilities and insufficient funds. The lack of processing talents may make indigenous peoples face even having a large amount of local data that prevents them from making full use of it. The lack of funds prevents them from cultivating data processing talents and purchasing some equipment, thus entering an endless loop that is not conducive to the development of indigenous data sovereignty.

Indigenous data ownership, possession and indigenous culture

Rainie et al. (2017) state that indigenous peoples have the right to control the data of their local people, land and other resources. However, due to the influence of open data, the protection of indigenous peoples’ data and the maintenance of their rights have been threatened to a certain extent. For example, some cases have been obtained through the development of data without permission and second-edited. Irresponsible use of these data and information may threaten cultural protection and political sovereignty (Walter et al., 2021). Some scholars also believe that data has exacerbated the marginalization of indigenous peoples and changed their history (Bruhn, 2014 as cited in Carroll et al., 2019). When indigenous peoples are unable to grasp their data well and are maliciously used by the public for a second time, their negative impact on the public will be deepened.

In addition, because indigenous people have the right to control their own data, they have the right to decide which data related to them can be disclosed or hidden. This factor depends on the indigenous communities’ own policy settings and their desire to protect their own culture. Indigenous communities may differ from the general public in their understanding of what property is and the related policies of cultural heritage related to tangible and intangible cultural influences (Tsosie, 2019, p.236). Different cultures and systems make indigenous people and non-indigenous people have different understandings of cultural protection. Those data that the indigenous peoples’ communities choose not to be made public protect their own data from infringement and facilitate their better management. Of course, it may also hinder the collection of indigenous data and lead to missing data.

AASTEC Management and Application of Aboriginal Data in Native American Communities

There are about 573 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States (Federal Register, 2019 as cited in Carroll et al., 2019). Founded in 2006, the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center (AASTEC ) provides health services to all 27 American Indian communities in the Albuquerque area of the Indian Health Service (Walter, & Suina, 2019). This institutional center provides education services for the Native American community on public health, disease prevention, etc., and provides professional medical services (AASTEC, n.d.).

In terms of data collection and management, AASTEC directly connects with the tribe to make things efficient. Walter and Suina (2019) illustrate that AASTEC worked directly with the tribe, analyzed the collected data, and immediately informed the tribe to take action, the efficiency rate has been improved, and the quality has been improved. At the same time, AASTEC plays the role of an intermediary, provides a good communication space, helps collect and organize the data collected in AASTEC, and provides feedback to the federal government and the state governments. And the relevant data reflected by AASTEC respects the sovereignty of the tribe and works side by side with the tribe to provide meaningful data (Walter, & Suina, 2019). The organization’s operating model has formed a good communication model to help non-indigenous and indigenous people communicate. At the same time, respect for tribal factors can also reduce the prejudice that may be caused by unpleasant conflicts. At the same time, AASTEC’s collection of indigenous health data can avoid data leakage, and at the same time, it also helps researchers to study the physical functions of indigenous people. This approach avoids situations where the Swedish data cannot be provided and cannot be studied, and it can also help the indigenous communities more quickly and directly, which is more conducive to the development of the indigenous communities.

AASTEC has done a lot to enable non-indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples to establish good data communication models, but there are still some obstacles. If Indigenous communities want to access their own data directly from the state and government there are still obstacles (Walter & Suina, 2019), which may collect some unreliable data. Therefore, the significance of indigenous data sovereignty should be emphasized, and relevant policies should be adjusted after the two parties negotiated. If it involves difficult national or state legislation, the indigenous government itself can establish relevant policies. For example, although it is difficult for indigenous peoples to control the data of large companies, they can set up policies that require data not to be widely shared (Carroll et al., 2019). In this way, indigenous peoples can protect their own data to the utmost extent, prevent data from being altered, and increase the reliability of obtaining data. In addition, if indigenous governments want to obtain more reliable information, they also need to cultivate suitable talents in local communities. Only when there are suitable and reliable talents in the community, can we distinguish some unreliable information. Walter and Suina (2019) suggested that a special group can be established to help cultivate the technical knowledge of the locals.


In the era of big data, open data allows the public to obtain the data they want more easily and efficiently, but it also faces the risk of data abuse and conversion. Especially with the advent of the cloud era, a large amount of data is stored in the cloud. If the data is not well managed, personal data leakage and information tampering are likely to increase. When excessive unreliable data floods the Internet, it is even more difficult for the public to identify that the data is correct and true. Behind this difficulty is a lot of prejudice, violence, and discrimination. Indigenous groups carry the exclusive culture of indigenous people and communities. It is the precious cultural heritage that needs to be protected rather than tampered with. At the same time, due to their looks and misunderstandings on the Internet, the indigenous groups are more vulnerable to attacks, thereby extending the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people. The popularization of indigenous data sovereignty is very important. For the establishment of indigenous data protection and related policies, you can refer to the actions taken by AASTEC, respect and protect indigenous data, and establish effective communication to shorten the distance between non-indigenous people and indigenous people.


Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center. (n.d.) Who We Serve. Retrieved May 16, 2021, from

Carlson, B. (2021). Indigenous Internet Users: Learning to Trust Ourselves. Australian Feminist Studies, 1–17.

Carroll, S. R., Rodriguez-Lonebear, D., & Martinez, A. (2019). Indigenous Data Governance: Strategies from United States Native Nations. Data Science Journal18(1), 31–.

Kowal, E., Llamas, B., & Tishkoff, S. (2017). Data-sharing for indigenous peoples. Nature (London), 546(7659), 474–474.

Rainie, S.C., Kukutai, T., Walter, M., Figueroa-Rodríguez, O.L., Walker, J., & Axelsson, P. (2019). Issues in open data: Indigenous data sovereignty. In T. Davies, S. Walker, M. Rubinstein, & F. Perini (Eds.), The state of open data: Histories and horizons. (pp. 300–319). Cape Town and Ottawa: African Minds and International Development Research Centre.

Tsosie, R. (2019). Tribal Data Governance and Informational Privacy: Constructing Indigenous Data Sovereignty. Mont. L. Rev., 80, 229.

The World Bank. (2021). Indigenous peoples. Retrieved May 16, 2021, from

Walter, M., & Suina, M. (2019). Indigenous data, indigenous methodologies and indigenous data sovereignty. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 22(3), 233–243.

Walter, M., Kukutai, T., Carroll, S. R., & Rodriguez-Lonebear, D. (2021). Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Policy. Abingdon, Oxon ;: Routledge.

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